Grief, righteous anger, and hope after Wood

Taylor Braswell

For me and for you, it has been a year of injustice. We’re in the middle of a raging pandemic that disproportionately impacts people of color. Many of us have worn our masks, limited our contact with others, and rejected any sense of normalcy in the hope that these acts of self-denial would save lives. As a result, we are witnessing another health crisis arise, one of mental health. None of us are doing okay. We are hurting, and deeply. We are fraught with anxiety, for ourselves and for those we love. We are depressed and deprived of the people and things that make us feel whole. We’ve had more time on our hands than is healthy, but it will never be enough to process what has happened to us or to heal from it. Things are so fundamentally and inescapably hard. And how could they not be? We have inhaled grief every minute of this past year. Some days we are more distracted from this grief, but it looms over us nonetheless. 

But this past week, my grief has been overshadowed by my anger. I am pissed. You probably are, too. And this, my friends, is a righteous anger. We are again at risk of losing the things that matter most to us because a select but powerful group has decided that they are immune to the rules. The party at Wood House two weeks ago was an affront to the constant self-sacrifice of these past weeks and months. It was a violation of COVID restrictions and showed a disregard for human life. It disregarded every single person on this campus who has been fighting for their life, whether on the physical or emotional front. Yes, this is a righteous anger indeed. 

I’ve found myself asking a lot of questions this week. “How could my peers do this?” “How could they think it would be worth it?” “What about the rest of us — do they not care?” And most importantly, “What is it like to be so unconcerned with the consequences that you can joyfully commit egregious acts against other people?” The party at Wood revealed a lot of dark truths about Williams: an underlying campus culture of selfishness and a school ideal of allyship that does not include self-sacrifice. A majority of students on this campus might say, with varying degrees of truthfulness, that they believe black lives matter. But the allyship that is a consequence of this credence includes rejecting behaviors that directly and disproportionately harm black people, such as attending large social gatherings during a pandemic that has killed far more black people than white. It is during times that necessitate self-sacrifice that true allyship is tested. Many of our peers are failing. 

These past weeks have also illuminated a great divide between students who have a lot to lose and those who do not. For many of us, attending Wood would mean having to spend the few dollars in our savings on a plane ride back to homes that are either too small, too loud, or too unwelcoming for us to maintain our studies and our sanity. We’d be running the risk of infecting our family members with COVID-19, which would be exponentially more deadly for them because of the lack of health insurance, overcrowded local hospitals, and medical racisms that plague us. We are painfully aware of this. So we don’t go to large parties at Wood House on Friday nights. 

But our peers who live more comfortably in the ignorance of our realities, well, apparently they do go to parties. And because they go to parties, we are all exposed to the consequences, which are frankly a matter of life or death. This is a reality check on the values of our peers. For those of us who try to seek out the best in people, it really hurts. But then again, it’s been a year of hurt. 

So for those of you who are hurting, who feel far from their friends, who wake up with very little to look forward to, who fear for their lives, who are lonely, who are bitter: You are seen and not alone. I’m sorry this happened, and I pray that the hurt won’t last forever. For now, the best we can do is cling to hope. We’ll hope that our better, fuller selves will soon be restored. We’ll hope that our peers, our society, and our government will do better. And for those of you who go to parties in the middle of pandemics, I beg you: Do not let us hope in vain. 

Taylor Braswell ’23 is from the West Side of Chicago, Ill.