This post is the first in a small series of reflections on the recent events on campus, to be published over the next few days. If you have anything that you would like to contribute, please feel free to reach out to us.
I am writing this in response to the traumatic and overwhelming events that have happened over the past few days – the hospitalization of a dozen students and the arrest of four others, as well as the media and institutional reactions. I hope that this can be a space of positive dialogue and solidarity, where we share our thoughts and reflections with compassion and humanity. I hope to counter the intense and destructive negativity and inappropriateness of some of the language being used to address these events in our own community, in person and online, in the media portrayals and in the administration’s emails. These events remind of us of the importance of fostering a supportive community, one that we must build on our own, as the student body. These thoughts hope to help support that process of reconciliation, healing, and empowerment.
One of the many take-aways from the events of the past few days is the fragility of our bodies and minds. It is inspiring and heartwarming to hear of the recovery process of our friends and colleagues, and we should be grateful for the resilience of the human form. But the events that led to twelve people being hospitalized should stand as an important reminder of the deeply fragile nature of ourselves as human, corporeal beings. Many of us go through our daily existence believing in the impervious nature of our bodies and minds, ignoring or understating the effect of our actions, whether the lack of sleep we get from schoolwork, extensive drinking on the weekends, walking around outside in yet another 10 degree day, or whatever else. (I speak from a position of able-bodied privilege and recognize that this is not the experience of all.) These things can have serious impacts on us, in the present and in the long run. And we so often fail to check in with ourselves, to see how we’re doing, how we’re handling–or not handling–all of these stresses.When I return home at the end of the semester, I invariably fall sick, laying in bed for a week, overwhelmed by the mental and physical exhaustion I’ve been holding back. We put our bodies and minds through incredible challenges, no matter what we’re doing. This is not a commentary on the various substances we may or may not take. Those decisions are not mine, or anyone else’s, to judge. This is merely a plea to remember that, while strong in so many ways, our bodies and minds are fragile. We must recognize their intricacies and wondrous dynamics. We must take care of them.
Take care of each other. So many people are hurting in so many ways, many unable to be voiced, and it is so important that we try extra hard to actively be compassionate, loving and supportive toward each other. The note-writing event the other day was a beautiful example of this. Such practices need to continue. Check in with each other. Sit with each other in silence. Talk things through. Whatever you do, take that time to be intentional and observant in caring for one another.
It seems silly to say it out loud, but the internet can be a deeply negative and awful space. The reactions to these events have proved that to the nth degree. The amount of vile, hurtful and blatantly untrue words put out into the world through social media and internet news sources has been astounding and overwhelming. This was the first big thing to put YikYak to the test, and damn did it fail. The ridiculous rumor-mill and spewing of vitriol that emerged on the Wesleyan YikYak was absolutely horrific. It made the WesACB look tame. It also attracted the attention of students at other schools, who began to further the spread of dangerous inanities and distortions of the truth about the events across their campuses. Facebook also became a deeply confounding platform over the last week. While there have been many heartwarming and eloquent demonstrations of compassion, solidarity and community, there have also been many vindictive and juvenile comments made without care or thought for human lives. Such things can be, and have been, very overwhelming. Turning away from social media, even for just a little while, can be an important step back in order to get some perspective, move away from unhelpful negativity, and practice self-care. These forums and platforms can be productive and supportive spaces, but so often they are not. It is important to recognize when it is time to turn ourselves away from them and breathe deeply and interact with people in real, positive and compassionate ways.
The insane and appalling media frenzy that has descended, vulture-like, on these events reminds us of the huge and harmful impact that distortions of the truth, invasions of privacy, and out-of-context ideas can have. These kind of stories are being published all of the time, and it is frightening and eye-opening to see them focused on our community. The administration has recognized this as well, but decided that the appropriate response was to respond to the media coverage of the hospitalizations by implementing police force, presenting a zero tolerance policy for drugs, and in result, staging a witch hunt across campus, intimidating people, alienating our community, and ultimately allowing for the criminalization and suspension of multiple students. This is not the only reaction to this media attention, nor does it have to be. We can approach this media attention with care and caution. We can actively ignore their exploitation of these events, whether that is in the refusal to share or engage with news articles about these issues or in our responses to the requests of reporters and newscasters. On this note, it is essential to remember that if you choose to engage with these members of the media, you are representing Wesleyan as a community and institution to the outside world. Anything you say will be heard through unfamiliar ears, whether you are actively distorting reality or not. In almost every situation, it is infinitely better to choose not to engage, respecting the privacy of our community, and preserving the presentation of basic truths.
The solidarity meeting that took place in Espwesso the other day was a really powerful and moving moment of community. There was a strong sense of compassion and caring in the room, and people approached dialogue, organization and the sharing of space with intentionality and grace. It was a place to present updates and share sentiments, as well as a space for mobilization and organizing. Many students are seeing this moment as an essential time to confront the deeply pervasive issues on campus that these events reflect. You will probably be hearing much more about these efforts to mobilize and engage throughout the next few weeks. It is important to remember how this can be a time both of trauma and tragedy and also empowerment and community-building.