March 31, 2006
Carolyn Lloyd and Courtney Moore
"Have You Heard... The BMC Gossip Mill and Other Challenges of Living in a Community of Women "
“Have You Heard?. . . The BMC Gossip Mill and Other Challenges of Living in a Community of Women” was facilitated by senior Courtney Moore and Assistant Director of Residential Life Carolyn Lloyd, '99. Courtney started by focusing on communication at Bryn Mawr, inviting us to think about what aspects of it are confidential, and also to think about what it means to be a woman and a friend, especially in terms of sharing information. “Gossip is something we know about at Bryn Mawr,” she said.
Carolyn added that conversation here is hard to conceptualize. There are so many things that come to bear: it's a small campus and a women's campus, and aspects of technology (which are newer and were not a factor in Carolyn's time) play an enormous role. She brought up the issue of Facebook, asking the attendees how they experience that space. She also asked for comments on RSS feeds, which she uses to receive notices when a student blog has been updated.
The conversation began (but don't tell anyone you heard it from me):
One attendee said she's been aware since high school that others read what people write about you. Now, though, as another attendee pointed out, people write their own live journals—which seems exhibitionist.
“What is gossip?” someone asked. “It makes public things that are true,” was the answer. Someone disagreed, saying gossip is actually NOT TRUE.
Why do women gossip? We/they want to share, to be “helpful.” It's also a bonding exercise—we share information and feel tight, more connected. There's a sense that it's exclusive information. “We have this bond, and they're the outsiders,” is the feeling.
Why do we gossip online? After class, students are procrastinating, and “ you read your subscription—who broke up, who had a party. . .”
There's entertainment value in all this—live entertainment!—people break up in the middle of Erdman! One student said she thinks people don't mind being part of the gossip mill—especially if they are put on a live journal. She noted that there are good stories to be found there.
“It feels like a giant soap opera,” someone commented. But when we watch soap operas we're not personally connected. “What does all this other communication do to your actual relationships?” one of the group asked.
Roommates often assume they can share information.
With our roommates and friends, do we have to say every time, “I don't want you to talk about this?” ( Yes , the room answered.) “But,” someone noted, “I would trust my friends and value their discretion. That's part of how you choose your friends.”
Why do we gossip? What's the pay-off, the motivation?
To gossip, or not to gossip—That is the question. And here's what attendees had to say on the topic:
“This culture does not assume the kind of openness I had growing up.”
“I was voted the biggest gossip in high school, which I took as a sign I needed to work on that. When I came here, I made the conscious effort to resist the impulse to gossip.”
“We never talked about anyone's business and never shared anything about ourselves either. It took me awhile to learn that not revealing feelings and information can be just as harmful to relationships as sharing too much.”
“I'm not a big gossip but I like to talk. I know people who are religiously observant—they're not to talk about people at all, because even starting to praise someone could lead to bad statements/intentions.”
How does being on this campus affect gossip-making?
(“You're lucky,” someone interjected.)
What can you do to break the cycle?
There were a few ideas put on the table, but the attendees were still struggling with the whole process:
Whom do you go to when it seems like everyone's talking about such and such?
Ask for a mediator
[Asking for help is hard. . . .]
Some people are not aware that what they're saying or doing is hurtful. The hurt party may need to say something.
You have to understand the individuals involved, too. One person's passive-aggression may be someone else's respect, restraint, discretion. What one person sees as Quaker confrontation/open engagement may leave another person feeling assaulted.
Honor board—“they've been trained, but what does training really mean if they're still another student? I'd rather go to an adult.”
“Adults gossip on this campus too. Something that happened recently was told to a group of students—that was inappropriate.”
“Do we have to feel like we've ‘failed' before we use these resources?” The skills we're talking about take training and practice. But there is a hesitation to approach those resources.
“But I screwed my own problems up by trying to solve them myself. Services exist to give a space to try to communicate in (and with) your best self.”
What can we do preemptively?
Do some people have the desire to be talked about? What kind of person do we want to be? Someone who's always talked about? What responsibility does the object of the gossip have?
Coming from diverse backgrounds, in terms of communication, makes it tricky.
We need balance when to share and not.
Carolyn closed the discussion by stating that she talks with customs people, mediators and HAs a lot about this issue. She recommended the following resources:
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