Io (pronounced "EYE-oh") Blanchett is a recent Reed College graduate living in the Bay Area. They specialize in literary and film theory as well as intersectional feminist analysis and transformative justice practices.
picture: (one of my professors conducting our final class over Zoom, with a green screen background depicting the bonfire where we would have been torching our thesis drafts during any normal year
Instead, I got an email from the school that Sunday afternoon informing me that the summer Reunions and Commencement would not be a possibility this year, let alone Renn Fayre. In the next hour, students started to pour in to buy up the bookstore’s stock of cardboard storage boxes; by the time my first shift of the day ended, the boxes were gone, and the bookstore had been empty for hours. By the time I went home, I had been allowing the heartbreak to wash over me in waves as I cashiered for more than ten hours.
The class of 2020 is a unique group of people. We started our college career with the 2016 election, and at Reed, we were immediately thrown into a national spotlight by debates around the racism in our introductory course curriculum. Having witnessed the deaths of my classmates, sit-ins, failed drives for unionization, and the resignation of virtually every member of the school’s administration, I was ready to disengage from campus politics and enjoy what I could of my final year of college before going out into the “real world.” Reading this email was like watching as the blueprint of my postgraduate life was ripped to shreds.
It seemed impossible, though, to peer behind that blueprint, to see who was really doing the tearing. My first instinct was to be angry at the school, but I also recognized that this decision was a desperate measure to keep us safe. I processed the emotional repercussions with my friends and housemates via Zoom call and kitchen table meeting, always remembering that we were some of the most privileged people experiencing this moment. We discussed, sometimes through tears, who was to blame for the hurt we were feeling, not just for this event, but for the past four years of misery. Certainly, there have been several gross missteps in leadership that have led us to where we are now, including the many announcements from the Trump administration without a shred of supporting evidence that have given some states the idea that it’s all right to reopen their economy and schools. But we know, on a deeper level, that this anger can only be directed at an invisible enemy, and that we need to take this urge to blame and somehow mold it into a drive for change.
When I visualize my ideal next several months, the scenario still includes these closures, but along with a massive reworking of our country’s ability to provide for its most vulnerable people and a worldwide sense of possibility. Already things that have always been presented as impossible–universal basic income, the expansion of unemployment benefits, vast networks of mutual aid that connect the local to the global–have been implemented, and in order to sustain the population through this crisis, more drastic measures will have to arise again and again. Reopening the economy to a full extent should not be on the table at all right now, and that includes schools and colleges. Instead, we should be imagining a world where people can leave school and work to wait for the virus to loosen its grip, without having to make the impossible choice between life and livelihood, where their health will be constantly affirmed and valued over whatever economic value they provide by going to work or paying tuition. This is the kind of world that we will have to bring into being if we want to escape the complete and utter decimation of our most vulnerable populations.
I am still grieving for the loss of Renn Fayre, the loss of commencement, and the loss of normality and freedom that this country’s college students will experience over the next few years. But maybe my liberal arts education has taught me a little too well, but I believe that these closures, these small reduction in my individual independence, are worth the lives of the people they will save.