My therapist is trying to teach me this concept I have nicknamed Both And — it’s where multiple things can exist at one time. I can both be anxious and also just go to work. I can detest myself and still run errands.
As I grow older, I am starting to have the “both and” label on many of my memories and with institutions I hold close. The Jewish community I grew up in both taught me so many lessons and was deeply wrong in some arenas.
I read Requiem for the Spartans by Tim Alberta. It resonated. MSU is truly home to 50,000 people and even more when counting alumni like me. The thing about going to college with 50,000 people is that there is a scene for everyone. Always wanting to be different and weird, I never saw myself going to a sports school, and yet when the time came, there I was.
I immediately happened upon some of the best and most brilliant weirdos out there. Michigan State set itself up to feel small, cementing its students in their academic programing, Greek life, marching band, coop system — whatever community you want to be in, you can. It’s out there for you. What all of us share is the bucolic backdrop that looks precisely what you imagined college would look like when you were young. North Campus is home, the Sociology department, the African American history department, the Title 9 office, the art museum and the Residential College of the Arts and Humanities (RCAH) — my home.
RCAH is a special place. It gives you the feel of going to a private liberal arts college within a big school. The students who are a part of the program live in the building, eat in the building, go to class in the building, then tend to move to off-campus apartments close to the building. RCAH students — if I may be so bold as to paraphrase my own commencement address — come out as critical thinkers, do gooders and interesting people to have a conversation with. Who don't care if you end your sentences with prepositions. Even 10 years later, I think that is what a 20-year-old should get out of college.
Despite RCAH and all that I got from it, I have long known MSU to not be perfect. Outside of my RCAH experience, my involvement in activism was born out of MSU’s sexual-assault problems. Someone in my year was assaulted by members of the MSU basketball team and I spent four years working to bring light to the situation to get justice for the victim. We dropped banners at basketball games, took back the night, protested at the DA’s office and stormed the Provost's office — only to see nothing happen. One of the accused players befriended a terminally ill 5-year-old girl, which became the narrative for his remaining years as a Spartan. He went on to the NBA.
Years after that, this problem put MSU on a global stage as Larry Nassar was exposed as a serial sexual predator, and almost worse, our trusted leaders were exposed for their lack of action. This was devastating to my classmates and me — and yet we still held our memories of school in great regard.
And now this. On Monday night February 13, the stuff of my nightmares came to life. A place I once called home — my special little slice of educational euphoria — under attack. A gunman rained bullets all over North Campus. The dorm I had lived in was on total lockdown, students barricading their doors with bookshelves. When I lived there, we used towels to barricade the weed smoke.
Now in addition to balancing my disappointments and accomplishments, every time I think of the green collegiate campus, I imagine young people just like me fearing for their lives. I imagine myself and my friends huddled in our rooms, crying. I imagine how those students would come back to campus and nothing would ever be the same. That one night will forever be seared into their memory of MSU. It will never feel the way it once did to any of us. And that is devastating.
I work in policy — and I believe that policy changes are the answer to creating a better future, even if slowly.
Now somewhere I hold dear has been attacked. I think about how often we call for policy changes that ring empty as we know we are facing the near impossible with our divisive government. I have spent a lot of time thinking about achievable solutions. It scares me endlessly that I don't have them and, to be honest, all I can do is hope and pray. That feels really hard. It feels existentially dark and difficult to contend with.
So the question is — how do I remember the school that gave me so much? As one that turns their back on victims of sexual assault? As one that will be marred by a brutal and violent attack? Or a place I called home, where I loved to live and to learn?
It’s hard to know. Happy memories and secondary trauma. The only thing I do know is that I have to work hard to hold both and keep moving forward. Both And.