Student Attack Rumors: Really an Attack on Each Other?

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Will Slater At some point Thursday, February 16, most of us heard some version of a disturbing story. There was a shooting that had either been prevented or was still impending, weapons that had been brought to and maybe still were at school, and a classmate who had been expelled or even arrested. The story was entertaining, scary and fast spreading. Most of us believed it too or, just the same, didn’t bother questioning it, even though none of it was true. No threat was made, no gun was brought to school, and no arrest was warrant executed. Maybe more troubling than anything was our readiness to believe that one of our classmates was trying to kill us. Since the shooting in Columbine in 1999, there have been 50 mass shootings attempted or carried out in American schools. That’s about three a year, distributed among around 150,000 schools in America. A shooting or attack at Latin certainly isn’t impossible, but it’s unlikelihood calls to question why we would be so quick to latch onto the idea. Maybe it’s just that. The prospect of an attack is so foreign and compelling to Latin that we soaked up the excitement. Genuine fear is responsible for some of the rumors. The improbability doesn’t make some of us any less afraid. Spreading false rumors, then, is active fear mongering. The idea of a threat at Latin will impact everyone differently. Some will immediately dismiss it, some will question it, and some will believe it. Those that do didn’t stand a chance on Thursday. We didn’t just accept rumors though, we didn’t just spread them in the name of public safety, we relished them. It was a twisted game of telephone, where the goal was to not simply repeat what had been heard, but make it more entertaining. It mirrored the way actual news outlets often work. The most sensational, scandalous and repeatable version of the truth is passed from network to network, website to website. It turns the news into a guilty pleasure. Last week, despite Ms. Rodriguez’s multiple stirring pleas, we were no better than the world around us.   Thursday wasn’t the first time the Latin community got swept up in hearsay reports and speculation.  Over my three years at Latin, the unplanned, permanent absence of teachers has inspired similarly absurd gossip. In a way, it would be easier if the school could be completely transparent. Rumors would be abruptly halted and the truth would carry the day. Sometimes, though, the truth doesn’t do anyone any good. This is high school— we’re too young and too legally protected to have our lives tarnished by a misleading reputation. At Latin, we need to accept we can’t always know the reality of a situation. It’s okay to not know the answer to something. It’s okay to be confused and scared and upset. Some news is confusing, scary and upsetting. In a way, though, the truth doesn’t make any difference if we don’t value it. Our carelessness degrades the lives that are lost, and the families that are broken up by actual violence in schools. We make a mockery of tragedy and a joke of something that couldn’t be more unfunny. Even though mass shootings at schools are uncommon, they briefly and violently draw national attention. Americans move on relatively easily, another tragedy behind us, out of sight and out of mind. When we at Latin joke and speculate and legitimize nonsense, we corrupt the memory of actual victims. “Mankind is resilient: the atrocities that horrified us a week ago become acceptable tomorrow.” – Joseph Heller It doesn’t take any skill or smarts to make rumors sound like fact, confusion like certainty, and fear like comedy. All it takes is a tremendous lack of care for the community and the people in question. This article, just like Ms. Rodriguez’s comments at gathering, isn’t really about an incident or specific kids. It’s about a systemic problem. After any speaker that comes in to talk about bullying, a good portion of us will leave complaining that the lecture was a waste of time, because bullying doesn’t happen at Latin. It did though, in a dramatic and cruel way. The initial lie told was a singular act of meanness and bullying. What happened after was far more severe: a community mercilessly and carelessly burying a classmate.]]>