Rumored rapes falseNov. 14, 1997
Rumored attacks false
By Cindy Szelag
Staff Writer for The Baylor Lariat
Rumors, rumors everywhere and not a drop of truth.
Rumors about the terrible things that 'happen' to Baylor students seem to spread through campus at least once each semester.
'Unfortunately, we get bitten by the rumor bug every semester,' Chief Jim Doak of the Baylor Department of Public Safety said.
The current rumor is that two girls were abducted from the Bear Trail, taken to Cameron Park and murdered sometime in the past few weeks.
Students have called The Baylor Lariat, the Baylor Police and even stopped Baylor Police officers on the street to find out if the rumor is true. Doak said it is definitely not true.
'There's just nothing to it,' Doak said.
Doak said a rumor circulating through the campus is not an unusual occurrence.
'Almost on a yearly basis, we find rumor, heresy and gossip that begin somewhere deep in the inner sanctum of a residence hall,' Doak said.
Rumors such as these can start in many ways. Although they can be started intentionally to scare or amuse people, most times they are misunderstandings or unintentional miscommunications.
Dr. Kristina M. DeNeve, assistant professor of psychology and director of undergraduate studies, said a rumor like this could start with someone voicing concern to a classmate about what could possibly happen on the Bear Trail. When that classmate begins to tell others about the conversation, the story gets distorted because of each person's interpretation of the information.
'When we hear things, we kind of process them according to what we think,' DeNeve said.
DeNeve said it is unlikely that someone started the rumor intentionally.
'I think in all likelihood, it is an unfortunate consequence of normal processing of messages rather than something deliberate,' DeNeve said.
Dr. J. Larry Lyon, professor of sociology, said it is difficult to tell exactly how rumors get started. He said one possibility is that a student may warn another student about what could happen if a girl ran alone on the Bear Trail at night. A third student may walk in and hear only the end of the conversation, and assume the terrible things he or she is hearing actually did happen to somebody.
'Whether it actually begins that way or some variation, we can certainly understand how these get started,' Lyon said.
Once they are started, rumors can spread in various ways.
'I think rumors are a lot like playing the childhood game of telephone,' said Dr. Glenn Pack, director of counseling services at Baylor. 'As information is exchanged, people expand the story slightly.'
DeNeve said studies have been done showing if an experimenter lines people up, tells the first person a piece of information and gives each person the job of repeating it, the information will be significantly different by the time it reaches the end of the line.
The nature of the rumor also helps it spread faster. Because students are already afraid of what might happen to them on the Bear Trail or at Cameron Park, they are more receptive to these negative stories.
'There's certain topics at college campuses that cause a lot of concern among folks, safety being one of them,' Pack said. 'These rumors tend to play on our fears or our concerns, and are things that kind of resonate to us.'
Pack said because students know that bad things occasionally do happen to Baylor students or staff, rumors like these are that much more believable.
Doak said students may choose to believe these rumors so they can claim they are too scared to walk to class or to the library.
'It does have a ripple effect, because people use it as an excuse to avoid class or a test,' Doak said.
Pack and Lyon said the rumor has many of the characteristics of an urban myth.
'An urban myth is a kind of rumor that repeats itself in many times and in many places,' Lyon said.
In order for an urban myth to arise, there has to be an uncertainty of information in the community or on campus.
That occurs when 'you don't know what's going on, and what you do know you don't trust,' Lyon said.
Because many college students do not read the newspaper or watch the news, this uncertainty of information often occurs on campus.
'When the official avenues of information are limited, informal avenues become the way of knowing about the world,' Lyon said.
Another characteristic of the urban myth is that it is a 'cautionary tale,' meaning it has a moral or a message of precaution. In this case the warning is to avoid running the Bear Trail alone at night.
'It serves the function of discouraging dangerous activities,' Lyon said.
Urban myths also play on the fears of the community, as the rumors about the Bear Trail do.
Another portion of the rumor states that the Baylor Police are trying to hide the information from the media and the students.
Doak said student safety is the major concern of the Baylor Police and they would never attempt to cover up any vital information.
'We go to extremes to be sure our students are informed of potential dangers,' Doak said.
Doak said some years, students and their parents call because they have heard about crimes on campus. Although students are definitely encouraged to call if they have any concerns, they would most likely find out in another way if something like this ever did happen.
'If there's ever a situation of that magnitude, the students would know about it very, very quickly,' Doak said.
Copyright © 1997 The Lariat
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