Opinion: Perpetuating rumors is irresponsible

At a small campus such as Truman State, one of the hottest commodities — second only to reliable Wi-Fi — is gossip. Our university is set in a small Midwestern town, amplifying the sense that you can’t go anywhere without running into someone you know and consequently hearing all the latest “news.” We trade stories with classmates, neighbors, other students in the dining halls, and even professors and advisors.

One result of this closeness and interconnectivity, however, is sometimes the truth becomes blurred as it travels through the grapevine. Exaggerated facts or foggy memories can be amusing when telling a friend the details of a late-night Taco Bell run or a trip to one of Kirksville’s many train bridges. However, the fun stops abruptly when rumors begin to circulate about life-and-death situations, and as part of a community which has seen three student deaths during the past three semesters, we, the Editorial Board, ask that you fact check what you hear before you pass on potentially false information about sensitive situations.

One example dating back to October 2014 is the rumors which circulated after the death of Mackenzie McDermott, a junior English and creative writing double major who chose to study abroad during the fall 2014 semester. McDermott died in her apartment while abroad, and her family spoke with Truman Media Network saying the cause was a pre-existing health condition.

However, even after the details had been obtained, fact-checked and published, we continued to hear stories throughout the halls and walkways of campus which not only misconstrued the cause of death, but also the circumstances surrounding the discovery of McDermott’s body in her apartment. We found this incredibly inappropriate.

Not long afterwards freshman Connor Cunningham died after being hit by a car. Rumors about the incident, which happened barely a week after McDermott’s death, were hard to miss. Speculative stories began to circulate that shifted blame between the student and the driver. Cunningham’s mental state was questioned, as were his activities and whereabouts during the night of the incident. It made a difficult situation worse, and did not honor the late student or his family.

In light of the recent passing of freshman William Batterson, we, the Editorial Board, implore members of the Truman community to become a rumor-stopping force. The authorities are working to complete the necessary investigations and reports, and the truth soon will become known. During the meantime, speculation about the conditions and situation of this young man’s death will help absolutely no one. The best way to support one another and help those affected most by this loss is not to start or encourage rumors.

In all three of the aforementioned situations, a human life was lost. These students were part of Truman’s community. And now because of established memorial scholarship funds, the names and legacies of William Batterson and Mackenzie McDermott might become a more permanent part of this university than any of us that walk across a stage to receive a diploma ever will be. In their names, future students will receive aid to pay for their education. While speculating and gossiping about the latest scandal can seem fun, it also can have consequences. Imagine if Batterson’s grieving parents were standing behind you as you speculated about their son’s death, spreading potentially false information. Imagine how they must feel, hearing strangers discussing their late son, painting him in a negative light when there still is very little information about what happened.

The emotional impact of rumors — especially rumors about such a sensitive topic — is not the only reason you should avoid spreading them. Libel and slander can get a person into trouble, and it is unprofessional and uncouth. The Truman community considers itself the best of the best. We believe that shouldn’t only apply to the realm of academics. Let’s strive to be decent human beings as well and respect those who have died. You have a choice. The rumors can either start or end with you. So the next time you bump into a friend on campus and the conversation turns, consider changing the subject or standing up for those who no longer can speak for themselves.