This Wednesday, Jan. 6, violent insurgents incited by the president and his enablers stormed the Capital building in Washington, D.C., vandalized the halls of American democracy and left five people dead in the wake of their attempted coup d’etat. This act of domestic terrorism, the worst assault on our capital since the British burned Washington during the War of 1812, filled us with anxiety and fear. Half an hour after we watched the Confederate flag enter the Capital’s halls, we logged into our Zoom classes. We attempted to ignore our phones lighting up with news updates of the President’s indifferent Tweets and nooses made of camera wires. Most of us at the QC were rebuffed when attempting to start conversations in our classrooms about the very real threats to our country, where it was proven to us that syllabi are often valued above our ability to “excel in a complex global society.”
Whittier College Vice President and Dean of Students Bruce Smith broke the College’s silence when he acknowledged the attack on the Capitol in his Jan. 7 email to the Whittier College community. He wrote, “I am heartened knowing that Whittier College is populated by students with ideas, critical questions, and strong analytical abilities.” We could not agree more with this statement, which is the very reason we have grown frustrated with the widespread failure of the school and its teachers to engage us in necessary conversation as we process history in real time.
The QC believes that the College’s students should be brought into conversation in the classroom, yet there has been little time dedicated to that. The increasing devastation of COVID-19, distanced learning, the election, and, most recently, the coup attempt, have burdened each of us as individuals. Though, there has been little acknowledgement of these realities within our community’s academic spaces. When our city’s council members have been allegedly involved in a group of domestic terrorists, it is time to reevaluate how our community approaches these conversations.Dean Smith concluded his email by saying, “we are here to help. Let us know what you need.” This editorial is us letting you know what we need, in as much clarity as we can muster under these circumstances. We need to talk, and more importantly, we need to be heard. The students of Whittier College need to be engaged with as adults, people, and citizens.
In a lack of a response to Wednesday’s events, no resources or communication were sent from the school to our professors about handling such a grave topic. This lack of direction for our professors was reflected in tone-deaf lectures on Wednesday and Thursday, resulting in students being expected to continue “business as usual.” While some professors led their students in constructive conversations, others neglected to acknowledge, let alone address, the event even as it unfurled during our class periods. This week, too many professors have chosen their lesson plans over the well-being and well-roundedness of the students they are supposed to mentor. Whittier College and its classrooms do not exist within a bubble exempt from reality, especially the harsh one’s we are navigating. The College’s mission is to prepare students to “excel in a complex global society” and to “be active citizens and effective communicators.” When classrooms neglect to address the important historical moments we are living through, we further distance ourselves from that mission.
As much as students need support, so does our faculty. In a QC article published on Sept. 13, 2001, writers documented the response of Whittier College professors and faculty to the September 11 attacks. “Professors who chose to conduct class often diverted from the syllabus to discuss the events of the morning,” they wrote. “Realizing that students may have problems concentrating, faculty members were told [. . .] that it would be appropriate to divert from traditional teaching.” Perhaps the school should provide their faculty with direction now, too.
Granted, the events of Wednesday’s attack do not measure to the 3,000 lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001, but the severity of this week’s attack on the U.S. by Americans cannot be undervalued. As our advisor put it, making too little of this event would create the same mistake we fell into the past four years, as we normalized too many of the transgressions of the Trump administration. With a domestic assault on the Capital aimed at overturning the vote of the people to install a would-be dictator, we are now facing the stark and real consequences of having made too little for too long of the unacceptable. If we do the same here and now by going about business as usual, we contribute to the devaluing of our civic and community standards. Too many professors have done this by not making space in their classrooms to adequately address the many abnormalities, challenges and distresses of these past years. Conversations with faculty need to be had, and resources need to be provided. It is time to change that narrative of passivity, and to face these complex issues with student voices involved.
In light of that, we thought we would provide a student-based perspective on how classrooms and community should handle our current moment in a way that is effective for change and education, rather than sticking heads in the sand.
First and easiest, check in with students and classmates even for just a few minutes at the beginning of lecture. This has been successful in classrooms where professors have dedicated the time to giving their students a platform. It allows both students and professors to process these difficult events as a community. During a time of excess isolation, it is vital now more than ever to bridge those gaps and form community. We share similar anxieties and fear; we can support each other through them. Academia needs to allow the space to digest the current events, and our professors need to step up to create that space.
In his Jan. 7 email, Dean Smith listed several mental health resources, both on campus and online. However, we now call on the Whittier College Health and Wellness Center to provide students with adequate crisis-response resources. As we wait for a response, the Quaker Campus has compiled a list of mental health resources specific to our national crises in an attempt to provide support for those who have been looking for it.
We call upon the Associate Students of Whittier College, the elected government of our student body, to use its platform to lift up its constituents. As “an open forum for students to voice their opinions and desires,” how will you honor and protect the voices that have trusted you to represent them? We suggest holding a forum that can allow students to discuss their worries and feelings, while providing researched resources for those who are looking for further mental health aids. We also suggest individual representatives to simply check in with their constituency, if they have not already done so. Students deserve to be heard, and we need the ASWC to advocate for us.
We cannot continue to pretend that any group of our Poet community is carrying on as usual. It is not honest and, therefore, does not engender trust — the foundation of any valuable learning environment. Though this last year has been full of trials, we refuse to become desensitized to tragedy. This includes overlooking the gravity of this week’s attack. At the time this is published, there has been silence from ASWC, the Health and Wellness Center, and individual academic departments. There has been no official statement or acknowledgment made public from the College as an institution or from our President. We need to all not only acknowledge, but address the realities of the macro-cultural shift we are all living through.