In the past couple of weeks, we have received three emails about students passing away. We have also received a few emails about the aftermath of the election. Together, these emails felt like a flood—overpowering and destructive.
I wanted to do something—to shout, to scream, to change the situation somehow—but I couldn’t. The passivity of reading these emails feels much like the passivity of reading texts for class, in that we can’t change the words on the page. We have to receive news—Yale-related and national—without being able to change it.
Sometimes, in moments of quiet, I ask myself whether what I’m doing—reading old texts and writing columns like this one—matters. I wonder whether words can truly effect change. I feel far away from everything, from the families and friends experiencing the deaths of these three Yale students firsthand, and from the people worrying that they will be deported in light of the Trump election.
But still, through reading, I can see that pain and sorrow are universal and never permanent. When I’m reading Metamorphoses for class, for example, I can see the struggle of Daphne to be heard as she turns into a tree manifested in the fight of women, minorities, members of the LGBTQ community, Muslims, and every person who feels invalidated today. I recognize the voices of marginalized communities in different stories. I remember the patterned nature of existence, for the same struggles arise again and again, reminding us of our ability to rise out of them.
Reading offers solidarity in times of uncertainty: it unites us, connecting us as people across time and background. It provides a backbone to our questions and fears, grounding our thoughts in the stability of text. In other words, the texts we read stay the same, and in a way, this is comforting, for they act as constants in a world wrought with change.
Reading catalyzes action, providing us with direction in our efforts towards change, reminding us that people have overcome such marginalization before. Maybe, through reading Metamorphoses or Tacitus’s Annals—works that underscore suppression throughout history and the consequences of such suppression—I will be compelled to write, to act, to protest.
Reading has incredible potential, for it invites the possibility that, maybe, what you wrote in the margin of your history textbook is relevant and matters. The events described on the pages cannot be changed, but you can change how those events are understood today.
Yale itself is in a moment of change. We recently received word that Dean Holloway will be stepping down in 2017, and next year two new residential colleges will open. We have to look to the future. The morning after the election, we woke up, and we will keep waking up, and keep trying. So much lies in front of us—some of it positive, and some of it negative. Armed with the power of words, we will trudge ahead.