At Carleton we are often reminded of the various pros and cons that come with going to a small school (both in size of student body and campus size). Some of the most widely named benefits include our heightened sense of community, small class size, more meaningful student-professor relationships, and the convenience of an easily walk-able campus. We are also often quick to point out the ways our college experience would be different if we attended a larger institution: there would be a wider range of course offerings, and a larger wealth of resources and perhaps more funding for celebrated campus events, such as Spring Concert.
There is one small-school characteristic that we want to explore in more detail: the speedy dissemination of information, by word of mouth around campus. The high speed at which news travels at Carleton can be simultaneously useful and incredibly inconvenient.
For example, the word-of-mouth network is a common way to hear about campus parties. This can obviously be troublesome for hosts who are trying to limit the size of their gatherings. But all things considered, we pride ourselves on having an inclusive campus climate with accessible parties and social activities. Word of mouth is also the way many of us hear about campus events like talks and performances—the posters and emails often end up getting lost, and word of mouth always turns out to be the most effective way of communicating these things.
But there’s a darker side to our intimate campus. Everybody knows your personal business, and you probably know way more than you should about a lot of people on campus. It somehow becomes public knowledge who hooked up with whom 4th weekend, who’s not speaking to whom, and who doesn’t shower on a regular basis. We endure this lack of anonymity, which we certainly appreciate in most circumstances, but which can be frustrating in other very real ways.
The way information spreads on our campus is a part of our culture that we all learn to accept. We’re comforted knowing that things will be different in the real world after college. And perhaps it’s a small price to pay for the other benefits that come with having a tightly knit community like Carleton. We think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
The quick dissemination of news also presents obstacles in our work of creating a relevant weekly campus newspaper. Take this week’s front page headline announcing the Spring Concert lineup (see page 1). It’s likely that you already knew who was headlining, because your friend on the Spring Concert committee told their roommate who told you. This is just something we have to accept, and work with. All in all, the word of mouth network is a defining characteristic of our campus—whose benefits ultimately outweigh its sometimes-annoying inconveniences.