I was watching a TV show alone in my apartment, a scene I think we’ve all grown even more accustomed to within the past year, and was thinking about how grand it might have been to share the experience of other people. Because my mind is addled with Reed Lore, I thought first about FK, Film Kollective. They were a club that met in the PAB every now and again to watch films together, and then during Paideia, they had this event where people made seven films over the course of the seven days of Paideia, or maybe it was one film in just 24 hours. Either way, they were around.
Since the pandemic, Reed feels sort of like a stomach without a good gut microbiome. As though we’ve taken far too many antibiotics, and it’s just wiped out our gut bacteria. A lot of what the stomach does is in that gut bacteria. The buzzing question of how we get back to that seems to be unanswerable. The tunnel of hands and arms and bodies that seniors run through at Renn Fayre is only familiar to the seniors and probably only barely. We have this idea of Reed as a memory or set of behaviors that we will work our way back to, but the things that held that memory up have gone, and that thing was students who demanded it. I had this idea that in a few decades Reed would be unrecognizable to me because there were new buildings or that old ones had been destroyed, not that the composition of the student body had really changed. It brings back this anecdote where at a reunion this 90s alum walked up and asked me if people had started looking each other in the eye because someone had, and given that she was on campus, it freaked her out. The comment gave me pause because I hadn’t really thought about it but yeah, we didn’t look each other in the eye.
I’ve seen Dean of Institutional Diversity Mary James talk a lot about stress culture at Reed and how we as students can spread it by the sort of stress brinkmanship/schoolwork oppression olympics. I think this critique of Reed’s culture is fair, but I think the pandemic made it clear where that comes from. I think the situation around the wildfires last fall was a real clarifying point for how the institution fails to address situations that it didn’t predict, and fails to predict the inevitable. We often think of climate change as an existential threat, and Mary James has this metaphor about institutional racism as a natural force—wind. In many ways Reed has been etched by the stress culture as it has been a white supremacist monoculture, and that means that the ways in which we prioritize students is overwhelmingly white. This is why I’ve spent so much time and expended so much effort alongside so many dedicated students of color to change the institution so that those who look like them but come after are more comfortable and can make more change. I’ve been at Reed long enough to see how much student progress has been lost, to the pandemic, to student turn over, or to changes in national law. There will always be someone who any given college cannot optimally support, but the question Reed has generally failed to ask itself as it diversifies is: who doesn’t belong here? What sort of person comes here and is harmed more than they are helped? Given how inelastic our graduation rate seems, there is clearly some kind of answer.
This first semester back on campus post COVID has been defined by fundamental misunderstandings that we used to use trust to resolve. Reed is Heraclides’s river, whatever, I did the hum readings. It used to flow through, and the feeling I get is that it has been dammed. My point is just that what you’re feeling this semester probably isn’t normal. Reed isn’t in a state of flux that is going to end at a definite point in the future. This new state of flux is likely to define the next era of Reed, whatever that means for the wellbeing of the students who will come to learn here.