Saying that the past year has been bad is, at this point, a cliché. The problem with this cliché is that it makes it difficult to not simply shrug and say, “yeah, it has been,” which ends the possibility of really getting to express why. This isn’t to say that it isn’t obvious; in our various roles as humans, citizens and students, and for many of us also in our personal and relationship roles, we have had to face hardships through this year that few through history have had to face. The issue is that the cliché also creates a situation that makes it easy to write gushing pieces about what we’ve learned and what the positives of the year have been. This isn’t on a knock on those who are optimistic. It’s just to suggest that sometimes you just have to admit something was terrible to get some use out of it. 

 Through a pandemic that has killed millions, watching Black men and women across the country be murdered by those in power, learning of the harrowing stories women on our own campus have to tell about their experiences with sexual violence, hearing countless stories of the mental health crisis this year has caused and watching our country be torn apart at the seams by the ever-present political divisions that were exacerbated by a contentious presidential election – and this is by no means an exhaustive list – we have all, in our own way, been affected by the veritable Hell that was the previous year. 

 Critiquing the optimism of some of us by no means suggests they are wrong. To the contrary, we want to add to their optimism, and suggest that now as we stare at the end of the pandemic, it is utterly beautiful to watch people hope again. Watching the vaccination numbers go up by the day, seeing accountability finally delivered to the murderer of George Floyd and seeing people in desperate need finally getting to go back to work is gratifying and uplifting to us all. The difference here from general optimism is that we must see that it is unacceptable to simply breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Thank God that’s over!” 

We should all remember exactly how it felt to watch our leaders and those of other countries somehow simultaneously failed to keep us safe from a deadly pandemic and respect the freedoms owed to us as human beings. 

We should all remember how we felt when we saw a police officer press his knee into George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, and while we watched those around him do absolutely nothing to stop it. 

We should remember how we felt when we learned the stories of Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, Ahmaud Arbery and the unfortunately countless other names of individuals who died at the hands of those abusing the power they held. 

We should remember how we felt when we heard the stories of women who have faced sexual violence on our own campus, and how we felt when Villanova did next to nothing to help them or work towards prevention. 

We must remember all of this because it is all that will ensure that something changes. Take those feelings and use them to do better.

When horrible things happen, and horrible things have abounded this year, they become even worse when they do not result in improvements. If we allow our government to continue to get away without genuine changes, the catastrophic failures of those in power, both throughout the pandemic and through senseless violence against Black people, will continue and worsen. Do not let them think they got away with something. 

We must also use our feelings to demand better of our own community, namely Villanova. Since this needs to be expressed, and loudly, creating more task-forces and sub-committees does absolutely nothing to solve problems; in fact, creating more bureaucracy and red tape will likely make it even more difficult to get problems solved. Everyone knows this is performative, so please, for the sake of our collective intelligence, stop insulting us by telling us you’re doing something when you create a new task force. Instead, just listen, and then actually do something. 

When we come back in the fall, do a better job at educating the men who come to this campus, or are already on it, about what sexual violence is and what their role is in its prevention. Give women the resources they need to prevent sexual violence against them and give them the means to report sexual violence discretely and immediately. Then actually act on it and notify students quickly when it occurs. 

If you need a good start, the women who work as editors and writers for this paper have continually written about the flaws of the current system. This semester’s various pieces by Vivi Melkonian, Julia Stanisci, Madison Burke, Cate McCusker and Sarah Sweeney, among others, have addressed the University’s failures to help women on campus and make concrete recommendations for change. 

We also encourage the University to show its students of color that it is actually doing something to make sure that their voices are heard and that real change, not performative activism, is being implemented. This starts, foundationally, with making sure that our classes are representative of the country we live in. 

The stigma of “Vanillanova” exists for a reason, and unfortunately entering any classroom on campus will tell you why. Accepting more diverse classes, and promoting the perspectives and experiences of students of color once they are here, is the only way Villanova will ever reverse this stigma. 

Finally, use the way you felt this year to do better in your personal lives, too. Remember the days that going out for a walk made you feel like a human again, remember the days when lying in bed for hours only resulted in things feeling worse, remember how taking time for yourself and discovering new hobbies gave you a renewed joy for life in the midst of chaos and remember how pushing through 13 weeks straight of class without a break made you lose all motivation to do even the work you enjoy. 

Take all these feelings and actions, good and bad, and take the time to figure out what they mean in a non-pandemic context. Then, use them to help understand what makes you feel meaning in your life, and what makes things worse on your mental health. Do not do things that you hate – and encourage yourself to do things that bring you genuine joy, or at least make a bad day feel better, like simply cooking dinner or cleaning your room. 

This year sucked, so make it worth something.