It’s hard to feel invisible at Carleton. We go to an exceptionally small college in a small community. My high school had the same amount of students as Carleton; it wasn’t a huge transition for me in that way. But compared to my high school peers, Carleton students are most definitely more preoccupied with the lives of people around them. There’s a lot more passive-aggressiveness and gossip than I ever listened to or participated in in high school.
I think this sort of talk makes us paranoid that people at Carleton are always judging us. It’s only human nature to judge; anybody who says they don’t judge people is lying. We make judgments everyday: who we like, what we’re going to have for lunch, what professors are the best. But Carleton takes it to an extreme in the manner people deliver these judgments. Rarely are they direct when it involves gossiping about a friend or someone they know. It seems unfathomable sometimes on this campus to address a problem face-to-face instead of via text or facebook messenger. It drives me nuts.
Last year I did something that —let’s just say was pretty shady. It probably did deserve some backlash, and I was prepared for that. But more than anything, I didn’t think most people would care. That was my life and my decision, and I certainly didn’t know the majority of people who were offering their inputs about it behind closed doors. To my surprise, people got more involved than they should have. But instead of calling me out in public or addressing me in-person, all I got was repeated rude messages in my mailbox or slipped under my dorm door. All I could think from those messages was, well, this is pathetic. If people don’t know how to address their grievances in person, their message holds less weight when delivered electronically or in anonymous all-caps handwriting. Sometimes the option to address someone in public never happens, and that’s understandable. But it’s an exceptionally uncourageous thing to have something to say to someone and not say it. I think Carleton’s atmosphere teaches us to do that.
My roommate was really panicked by these notes; I didn’t care about them too much. The opinions of people I didn’t know didn’t mean much to me. But her reaction showed me just how deeply people are involved in each other’s business at this school. Nothing is ever private or sacred. Most things you do or say are going to be heard by other people. Logically, over the years I probably should have learned to express my opinion a little less, knowing that most things will be shared with anyone. But instead, I took a different approach. I’m typically very outspoken and opinionated, and I like that about myself. It doesn’t quite matter if you go to a school that is small and gossips a lot, you should always speak your mind. But try and do it directly.
I have tried to be more cognizant of the way that I handle conversations at this school. Carleton’s atmosphere does not stop me from speaking my opinion, but it makes me debate how that opinion should be delivered. Over the years, I’ve tried to gossip less. I’ve tried to not pass along information I know may not be true. It’s a hard thing to do, and I know I definitely have made mistakes in that area. But it’s an effort, and sometimes that’s all we can do.
We call people “shadow Carls.” I think this is sort of a ridiculous term. Everybody plays a part on the campus community; some names are just more well-known than others. That doesn’t mean that you know those people, you’ve just heard about them. “Shadow Carls” of course are known very well by their own circle of friends, and the groups and communities they choose to join on campus. Again, everybody on this campus is known to someone. It’s too small of a space and community not to be.
At the end of the day, everyone will be invisible on this campus someday. We’ll graduate and a new freshman will take our spot in whatever club or sport we’re involved in. That’s sort of a comforting thing for me to know. I don’t care too much about having a lasting reputation on campus. It’s hard to be invisible on this campus while you’re actually going to school, but at the end of the day we’ll all become invisible here, barely leaving an impression. So in the meantime, I think it’s best to just ignore the negative rumors and gossip, especially when they involve yourself.