A lot has happened this past semester. I want to take some time to share and unpack what I and my community have recently been through, and talk about my vision for my website moving forward.
The fall has been a step up for me academically. While I greatly enjoy majoring in creative writing and I have enjoyed my classes, they have been difficult compared to classes from past semesters, and have demanded enough of my time that maintaining my website has fallen to the back burner. I anticipate that the spring semester will hold similar challenges, and while I want to continue posting new content to my website, I’m afraid I will not be able to do so as regularly as I would like.
I will probably be cutting back on the frequency with which I post poetry, stories, or blog updates on this website due to academic stress. My hope is that I can consistently post something once every two weeks throughout the remainder of my time as an undergraduate student, then pick up the pace again once I have graduated.
Borderline and Woolsey
The biggest challenge that I and my community faced this past fall started on the night of November 7. The Borderline Bar and Grill is a well-respected establishment where patrons can get food, drinks, and enjoy a night of line dancing. It is located in Thousand Oaks, one of the safest suburbs in California – in fact, in the entire United States. On that night, a man named Ian David Long shot and killed twelve, wounding several more before taking his own life. Among those killed was Alaina Housley, a freshman at Pepperdine University.
The Pepperdine student body found out the following morning that Alaina had been killed. We had less than twenty-four hours to grieve before we were given instructions to vacate our living areas and crowd into the school gym and cafeteria as a wildfire ravaged the hills near our campus. The Woolsey Fire was the most destructive wildfire in the history of Southern California, and the Camp Fire to the north was even more devastating.
Many students decided to leave campus. Though traffic was horrific that day, the students that left safely evacuated to the homes of friends or family members. Those of us who stayed on campus had to stay overnight in the cafeteria and library. Around 10:30 at night, from the second floor of the library, we watched as flames crested the hills behind our campus and rushed down onto campus itself. Through the night, the red glow of flames illuminated the sky.
A short time after the flames were visible, a police officer acting without proper authorization told us that we needed to leave – that the police would not protect us and we had to evacuate immediately. The truth of the matter – which had been stated emphatically and repeatedly to us and to the media – was that Pepperdine has a long and successful history of sheltering in place during fires. Because of the amount of concrete and greenery on campus, Pepperdine is designed to withstand fires, and has long had a positive relationship with the Los Angeles Fire Department.
The policeman’s idiotic harbinging caused mass panic that was difficult to quell, but eventually, officials from the Fire Department managed to calm most of the students, and we returned to our haunts in the library and cafeteria.
(As a side note to any police officers who read this, I want to say that I generally have tremendous respect for you and the work that you do. Your job is difficult, dangerous, and often underappreciated. However, in the event of a fire, LET THE FIRE DEPARTMENT HANDLE IT. IT IS LITERALLY THEIR JOB. I know that a lot goes into being a fire fighter and a lot goes into being a cop. Much more than I am aware of in both cases. But at the very least, do NOT cause panic. As a cop, it should not be difficult to to someone in a position of authority and discuss your concerns with them instead of shouting at a bunch of frightened students that they have to leave. Handle the situation with the maturity that your badge demands.)
Though the fire did burn on campus for some time, no permanent structures were lost. One toolshed was burned, and several cars were destroyed, but as a whole, Pepperdine remains intact. Administration closed the campus for two weeks, reopening after the Thanksgiving holiday. During this time, we continued our classes online through remote instruction.
We have emerged from the flames shaken, but not defeated. In fact, we are much closer as a community than we were before the tragedies. November was a remarkably trying month, so much so that the word “apocalyptic” was used. I mourn the loss of a fellow student; I am grateful that our campus is intact; and most of all, I am optimistic for the future.