FISHER: Don’t fear Sandy

School of Fisher

Hurricane Sandy has arrived. People along the Eastern Seaboard are hoarding water. Governments and schools are shutting down. In a lovely throwback to the last century, I saw a young couple at Rite Aid yesterday actually buying candles, lest the storm knock out their battery supply as well as the city’s electrical grid.

And at Yale, today’s classes have been cancelled, effectively extending Yale’s debut fall break another day.

Yale hasn’t had a snow day since 1978. Even then, in a blizzard featuring more than two feet of snow and winds that could give Sandy a run for her money, classes were cancelled on Governor Ella T. Grasso’s order, not any Yale administrator’s.

I used to have this theory about Yale: The University didn’t acknowledge the existence of calendars or weather. Time, national holidays, physical danger — none of these things mattered to the stalwart force of Yale.

We didn’t observe national holidays — save Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Classes aren’t of uniform length, and they don’t start at normal times like 11:30; no, for whatever reason, we’ll take the 11:35 start, please.

The last time Yale sent its students home was during the American Revolution.

The University stood above all external influences, I thought. It was a true haven of learning, a place where we could take ourselves just a bit too seriously, where we could proudly know that we stopped for nothing.

Snow could come, and we’d trudge through it to class, maybe throwing a snowball along the way.

Men from across the world could fly airplanes into a national landmark just 80 miles down the highway, and we’d soldier on, mourning and debating and wondering together but keeping our minds on Kant or calculus all the while. Kant and calculus, you see, aren’t affected by terrorists or hurricanes.

But that fierce — perhaps even blind — confidence is fading away. This year, Yale discovered not only the existence of national holidays but also the concept of fall break. And now there’s some rain and wind, and the University is telling us to stay home, forget about our studies and just — please, kids — be careful.

Yes, I appreciate the extra day to sleep in and the extra hours to work on my senior essay, but I see fear creeping into our castles.

It’s reasonable to be afraid of a storm that might knock down trees, flood the streets or even kill civilians. There are a lot of people who don’t have the luxury of living in castles.

But we do have the luxuries of Yale’s housing and closely clustered buildings. That’s one of the things Yale gives us: the chance to devote ourselves to our studies and extracurricular occupations even when every external force is screaming for us to take a break and huddle up.

It’s reasonable to be afraid, but it’s equally reasonable — and much healthier — to see the storm coming and be excited. Stuck inside all day? Movies! Winds that can knock you off your feet? Sounds like an adventure I wouldn’t want to miss.

Ten years ago, I saw fear’s power to sap life. The D.C. metropolitan area was struck by snipers who killed people on the street at random. No one went outside except to run from a building to a car. Recess was held indoors. Little League games were cancelled. If the police had caught the killers a few days later than they did, we might have seen the king of all ironies: Halloween defeated by crippling fear.

Today, we live in a world choked by fear. It’s everywhere. We’re afraid that the man across the street is a rapist. We tread lightly with our jokes for fear of being condemned for political incorrectness. We’re genuinely concerned that the country could not survive a Mitt Romney administration.

Fear is not a thing to be proud of. It works slowly but powerfully to crush spirits. Deprived of the things we love in life — the sheer joy of each day — we turn sour and sullen. When we are infected by fear, we see the world as an enemy, and soon enough we begin to see each other as enemies, too.

What unites us and uplifts us, on the other hand, is our power to celebrate and explore when the natural reaction is fear. The world may send us hurricanes, snipers, snowstorms or war, but there’s no bolder response than to push ahead, to meet the storm with equal gusto rather than to shrink away.

Turn each threat into an adventure, and nothing can stop you. That’s what Yale has been doing for three centuries, and, even if our University has abandoned the task, it’s what we should all be doing.

So I’ll be outside today, dodging flying branches and trying to stay on my feet. I hope you’ll join me.

Julia Fisher is a senior in Berkeley College and a former opinion editor of the News. Contact her at julia.fisher@yale.edu.

Comments

  • candide

    Great background on Yale, but later on there’s a lot of generalization under the canopy of the term “we.” As a reader, it’s slightly off-putting.

  • bookish

    Great column, up until the last line.

    Adventure is one thing…foolhardiness is another. Don’t confuse fearlessness with common sense.

  • The Anti-Yale

    I was in that 1878 blizzard.

    The Div. School Refectory served dinner as if nothing was happening outside, in two feet of snow.

    I would NOT go outside today. A dislodged “Stop” sign could remove your head as you “enjoyed’ your adventure.

    PK

  • ohreally256

    This is just embarrassing. Perhaps this student forgets (or never stopped to consider) that many of the people who make Yale run each and every day don’t live in residence halls. Staff and faculty often drive more than an hour each way to work each day. Flooding, trees in the road, high winds, electricity lines down – these things are real dangers that can put lives at risk during a commute. The university made the right decision.

    • yellow655

      I was about to comment on the same aspect. Not to mention the majority of Yalies are graduate students who live off campus, commute to school, and have to worry about their homes, families, food and water. Yale College may be “closely clustered,” but Yale University is scattered throughout New Haven and beyond, and faculty, staff and students commute from even farther.

  • carp800

    I agree to a large extent with the sentiment behind this piece. My freshman year, Yale made no move to cancel classes during the “Great Blizzard of 2003″–which fell on Presidents’ Day, no less. It would be nice to have some standards in place for cancellations so Yale’s actions don’t feel like fear-mongering or band-wagoning.

  • Jess

    I was almost with you until the last line.

    Yes, Yale College students are privileged to have a lot of infrastructure that will keep them safe–as long as they don’t do anything stupid. That’s in large part because there is a dedicated group of workers in a power plant who agree to come to work, not knowing how difficult it may be to get home, all for the sake of keeping your lights on, your fridge cold, and your laptop running. Yes, you should be grateful for that, and you shouldn’t be inordinately panicked because of it. But you should also realize that the people who make Yale run don’t all live in fortresses and their safety matters, too.

  • jorge_julio

    the sublime! the sublime! the sublime!

  • Holly_Rushmeier

    The schools are closed, and many people need to stay home and care for their children. Mass transit is shut down, and many people have no way to get to work. Many people have been evacuated and are staying in shelters. Driving on the roads is increasingly hazardous. Flooding has already starte. Even facing “just” another long period of no power (which for many people means no water either) and caring for family is extremely stressful. Yale has made a decision that demonstrates respect and concern for employees and students who live off campus.

    • carp800

      “Respect and concern” for Yale’s workers is very nice, but Yale’s customers are its students, who don’t get that day of classes back.

      • ohreally256

        What self-absorbed claptrap. You should be ashamed of yourself.

        • carp800

          No, I shouldn’t, but you should learn how to argue instead of just slinging insults, even on the internet. Maybe $58,600 is not a lot of money for you, but it is for many families. It’s hardly absurd to suggest that the decision to not give people their money’s worth is a matter of last resort–which is arguably the case today, given the state’s road closures.

      • yalengineer

        You’re paying for the community. Learn to use it.

      • meep15

        This is why people view Yale as snobbish. I’m ashamed that a fellow Yale student could be so callous about other human beings.

  • 20155

    This is stupid. A lot of people have already made the point about Yale’s workers and graduate students, most of whom do not live on campus. But if the weather is actually bad, it could be dangerous for those of us who have classes on science hill to walk up there in a hurricane.

    I do recognize that it’s going to be hard to catch up on classes. At the very least, most of my teachers are rescheduling today’s classes and office hours, and I’m grateful for that, as I suppose many other Yale students are.

  • tjhotdogs

    Marvin and Dean G might have a few things to say about this

  • CharlieWalls

    What a useless, childish article! You may crave excitement. Please don’t get off on an event so enormous and deadly. [As to classes, surely the net will function in your medieval village, and you might have a book or two around if things are really too dull -- and you can bother to read something not assigned.]

  • ohreally256

    From Linda Lorimer: In the last hour, a 100-lb exhaust fan fell from the top of the Malone building, and the bus shelter outside Woolsey Hall blew out, shattering glass onto College Street. A large tree has fallen across Grove by 340 Temple, and wires are on the ground in the vicinity of Silliman and TD on Temple Street. Lower Wall Street is partially blocked with fallen branches.

  • spd

    “Winds that can knock you off your feet? Sounds like an adventure I wouldn’t want to miss.”

    This article is incredibly foolish and even offensive: there have already been dozens of casualties of the hurricane, including in the northeast and including those killed by the “falling branches” the author is so excited about frolicking around.

  • sdb

    Ignoring the general ignorance and possible attempts at satirical humor, let’s get to the point. What on earth makes you believe that this is one of those fear mongering events that has sprung, as you suggest, from events like the DC sniper?

    Since it appears you are from that area, as I am, let me fill you in on a few things. I’m guessing that I must be a few years older than you. I remember what’s happend around DC in the last 10 years.

    Ignoring all man-made catastrophes which have absolutely no bearing on our natural disaster preparation, do you remember Hurricane Isabel in 2003? Virginia lost power for almost a week and my family had to live out of a hotel for that whole time. What about in fall 2005, when tornadoes touched down in Alexandria without enough warning to evacuate the schools? My classmates and I lined up in the hallways and waited for the storm to pass when we were expecting our 5th football loss of the season. And how about Hurricane Irene last year? These things happen all the time, and without accurate preparation, many people could be in severe danger.

    Yale has done a commendable job of preparing the students and the campus for a hurricane more dangerous than those of the past. Unlike you undergraduates in your comfy dormitories, staff, faculty, and graduates students live off campus, feeding ourselves, and in some cases, walking everywhere for transportation. While you enjoy your setup, I’m enjoying the fact that I live on the second floor and was smart enough to bring some of my work home with me.

    We do live in a time of 24-7 media telling us what to be scared of constantly. We also live in a time were moronic concepts like YOLO tell us we should be out enjoying life to the fullest no matter the shear stupidity of walking around outside at a time of hundred mile hour winds, structure collapse, and flooding. Please, the next time you want to rally your generation, don’t.

  • Amused

    Talk about a perfect storm! We have a healthy does of ignorance, privilege, self-importance, and foolishness of youth all coming together to produce this article. Amazing.

    • Yalie

      Indeed. If only the YDN had offered us a haven from it.

  • johnmstill

    come on