Image consciousness holding students back

February 21, 2013 | 11 a.m.

More could be accomplished if students didn't fear judgement 

Views | Matt Kelley

Image consciousness holding students back

Bethel's great community may come at a cost.

Everyone feels good about Bethel’s feel-good atmosphere, right? Take a lap around the academic buildings and you’re bound to exchange pleasantries with a dozen people, always polite and always with a smile – that’s the Bethel way. And this makes for a cozy, community-based atmosphere.

While this campus-wide kumbayah makes for great pictures in the brochures, it comes at a price. 

In my two years working for The Clarion, I’ve seen a multitude of great story ideas fail to materialize because no students were willing to speak on the record. We have been unable to cover some of the most interesting and pressing issues on campus simply because people are too image-conscious. 

The way I see it, this is attributable to a handful of circumstances. First, Bethel is small enough that image actually matters. Knowing the name of everyone in your class is great until you find a way to embarrass yourself. Any socially unacceptable action is magnified by the rumor mill typical of small schools. 

But why isn’t speaking out socially acceptable? The overwhelming tendency of students at Bethel is to avoid conflict and refrain from offending anyone at all costs. 

I’m not trying to pick fights or offend people, and I’m not urging you to do so either. But we shouldn’t be afraid to do so if the cause is right. I greatly admire the student and faculty contributors to our coverage of the Minnesota marriage amendment in October – Jared Hedges, Jacob Ruff, Dan Ritchie, Sara Shady and Carrie Peffley – who were unafraid to publicly take a firm stance on a controversial issue. 

In general, I think people have an innate desire to be heard, to voice their opinions. Traditionally, media like newspapers have been the means to fulfill this urge. But social media has changed the game.

It is much safer – especially to the image-conscious – to vent frustrations and air grievances into an ocean of sushi Instagrams than to directly engage an audience. Why speak out against a policy on the local news when a simple tweet will solve the problem?

But there’s the catch. When ideas are being blindly launched into the great expanse of social media, often nothing is accomplished – problems generally aren’t being solved. While it may fulfill the desires to be heard, it is the safe way out. 

Don’t get me wrong – social media can be a great asset. But having the ability to anonymously post on message boards or only send a tweet to a select group of followers has made it too convenient to be a coward. I’m certainly not without fault, going on Facebook to type a passive-aggressive post rather than risk a real-life confrontation. 

But for all the do-goodery at Bethel – the third-world mission trips and outrage over foreign problems – there seems to be a reluctance to be an advocate for change right here on campus. 

I believe that Bethel students largely want to leave campus a better place than it was when they came. But currently it seems that the desire to spark change is outweighed by the desire to not offend.

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