On Friday, Jan. 27, I had an excellent day. It was an “off week” for Directed Studies, so I hadn’t spent all week working on a paper. I had my tour guide interview in the afternoon, which went rather well. In the evening, I decided to go to sleep early. A normal day for me, an utterly normal day.
Meanwhile, that same evening, President Donald J. Trump announced what effectively amounts to a Muslim ban, delivering on a promise that he made so many months ago. And the next day, another normal day, white supremacist and alt-right leader Steve Bannon was given a seat on the National Security Council. To quote The New York Times, this promotion downgraded “the roles of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence, who will now attend only when the council is considering issues in their direct areas of responsibilities” (“Bannon Is Given Security Role Usually Held for Generals,” Jan. 27, 2017). Despite the Sturm und Drang of national politics, I slept like a baby.
On Sunday — as normal a day as any other — I headed for Cross Campus from the main entrance of Sterling Memorial Library. And when I opened the double doors, I gasped.
There were more than 1,000 people in front of me. Many held candles. They were so closely packed together that I dared not attempt to get through, nor did I want to. I struck up a conversation with one of the attendees, a New Haven resident, although it wasn’t long before we were silenced by the crackle of a microphone. Stories rang out from men and women who had saw this country as a haven from chaos, war and oppression. They had gained admittance to one of the greatest universities in the world. Yet they would not have even been allowed into the country after Trump signed the executive order. The unfairness was palpable, and for an hour more than 1000 people at Yale stood in solidarity with those affected by the ban. By a happy coincidence, I happened to be one of them.
In that hour, I felt more sadness, rage and hopelessness than I had in the entire week. It hurts — mentally and sometimes even physically — to pay attention to what is happening in our country and across the world as a result of Trump. When I do pay attention, I am consumed. I can’t focus on ostensibly removed subjects such as philosophy or literature.
Now, I can’t appreciate things like everyday interactions that are supposed to be a hallmark of the Yale experience. I don’t enjoy the pristine, white snow that is normally so appealing to my eye. What does any of it matter when every day brings with it some new harbinger of doom and gloom? Most importantly, I can’t plan for the future — what does an American do with an America like this? I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel — what’s the use of doing anything now when the future seems so uncertain?
I don’t write this so that people will feel sorry for me. I don’t write this to advocate for apathy. I applaud everyone who has used the frightening events of the last week as inspiration to work even harder. The world needs people like you. I write this to give voice to what I’m sure is a widespread feeling on campus. It’s knowing that to stick your head in the sand is wrong and selfish. But to pay attention spells disaster for things like your work, your goals and your sanity.
I don’t think there is an easy solution to this problem, and I don’t think we’ll arrive at a solution for some time. But for now, it’s worse to look away from the problem. We need to confront our reality. As hard as that may be to do, this is bigger than any one of us. Perhaps there is some solace in that.
Adrian Rivera is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .