In just the last few months, members of the Chapman community have been faced with a 9,200 acre fire, mandatory evacuations, an unprecedented two-day campus closure, the devastation of homes in Sonoma and Napa County, and the largest mass shooting in United States history, in which, one of our own, Fowler School of Law student Ariel Romero, was shot.
“It’s such a different reaction when you hear about someone you know,” said sophomore major Peyton Babbe. “It’s hard to feel something. You don’t ever expect someone to hurt or kill a loved one.”
The political science and strategic and corporate communications major woke up to a call from her mother on Monday morning after the Las Vegas shooting, informing her that her cousin and her cousin’s boyfriend were there. The two survived, but the boyfriend was shot as he shielded his girlfriend.
With tragedy looming, our greatest fears have become urgent realities. Scarcely a day goes by without a devastating cover story decorating the news and social media. In recent months, the persistence of these events has exhausted our emotions and interrupted the upbeat rhythm on Chapman’s campus. It’s left many students questioning how they should respond when every week, another disaster demands their attention.
Babbe said coping with the shooting has been difficult for her because she’d never had a personal connection to a national tragedy. Going to school that Monday was surreal. People were not having conversations about an event that changed her life and world outlook.
“It was the weirdest day of school I’ve ever had,” she said. “I remember being kind of mad that we didn’t talk about it more (in my classes). It felt much closer to home than ever before and it wasn’t getting the attention it deserved.”
For today’s college-age students, September 11 is often their first memory of a national tragedy and first exposure to terrorism. Growing up in an era where there’s news of a terror and violence every time we check our phones has taken its toll on the generation. A 2011 journal published by the American Psychological Foundation said that indirect and direct exposure to the 9/11 attacks resulted in increases in symptoms of posttraumatic stress and anxiety in youth and young adults.
Madi Moynihan is a senior theatre technology major who was at the Las Vegas shooting on Oct. 1. She said the toll it has taken on her in the last few weeks has been more difficult to cope with than the moment of the shooting.
“You think that after that sort of tragedy that that’s the worst that it gets, but I think the aftermath has been worse than the whole thing itself. I haven’t been able to sleep or been able to eat. It’s been slowly sifting into the smaller aspects of life that people take for granted. I know at least for my life, everything’s off-kilter and been thrown for a loop,” she said.
Undeclared sophomore Hayley Wierwille said it’s hard for a generation that has grown up surrounded by violence in the news to feel reassured about their own safety.
When Canyon Fire 2 started, Wierwille had to evacuate her home as the fire descended over the hill behind her street.
“You couldn’t see the other side of the street there was so much smoke,” she said. “I was very afraid. Just the thought of it being a couple miles from my house… Seeing the sky and the sun turn red was very scary.”
Like many of us, Weirwille was glued to her phone to keep up with the updates on the fire. She said she does the same with every tragedy because she can’t help but try to make sense of what’s happening by reading the news.
The sense of urgency we get from social media translates into a culture of fear, said Katherine Khaloo, a sophomore political science and strategic and corporate communications major. Her response to the tragedy in Las Vegas felt more emphatic because she was following the shooting in real time.
“I found out about it while it was happening because of social media. My roommate came out and told me there’s a shooting going on right now,” she said. “And I woke up the next morning and it was 50 dead, 500 injured. The process of grieving felt much more connected.”
In the midst of tragedy, Wierwille said it’s important for communities to take time to grieve. She recalled the Charlottesville rally and how grieving this event was different for her because it scared her in a way other tragedies haven’t.
“I think that people are more aware now of the things going on in the world, and our parents brought us up differently because of that,” she said. “I feel like right now those fears are rational because of what’s going on in the news. The world is in a lot of turmoil.”
The anger born from tragedy is part of what has shaped the generation’s culture of fear, according to Khaloo.
“I try really hard to not be scared. I think the best way to combat the terrorism in our world right now is just through living our lives,” she said. “I think more than anything our generation is angry. Are we fearful? Sure. But more than that we’re angry. That fear is motivation for us to fix things.”
The same rang true for Moynihan who said that if we change our lives because of our fears of terrorism, we only become more terrorized.
“I think those fears are rational but when you do that, those people win; the terrorists, the guy who did the Vegas shooting. If you allow yourself to think you can’t go to a movie theater now, you’re never going to live your life,” she said.
True to her words, Moynihan goes line dancing regularly and found that her involvement in the country community has put life into perspective. She went to a country concert four days after the shooting. Twice during the show, the performer asked the audience ‘are we afraid?’ and everyone shouted ‘no!’.
“We’re not going to let that person win or take our joy,” she said.