Art by Madeline Duvall
There are two types of people at Pepperdine. There are those who were at the Malibu campus during the time of the Woolsey Fire, and those who weren’t. It isn’t a visible difference, but it is something that permeates the campus culture, especially after the Sweetwater Fire on Aug. 30.
However, whichever group a person is in doesn’t determine their reaction to the fire and shouldn’t be assumed by the category they are in because everyone processes events differently. The only way to understand how others are reacting is to talk to them about their feelings.
There is no way to tell what is going on in someone’s head, even if it is known that they experienced a traumatic event in the past. Just because someone stayed in Malibu on Nov. 9, 2018, doesn’t mean that they had PTSD flashbacks when they saw the smoke from Sweetwater. That also means that a first-year or transfer student won’t necessarily be apathetic or overly hysterical about the helicopters flying to and from Alumni park for water.
Some people have taken to joking about the fires. While others think that can be insensitive, humor has been scientifically proven to relieve stress and cope with anxiety. What people may see as crass may actually be a way for that person to process trauma.
The only way to know is to communicate. Whether with classmates or the Counseling Center, being open about your feelings leads to a better understanding of others as well as yourself.
These two fires in the past two school years aren’t the first to affect the campus, and they won’t be the last. How can Pepperdine as a community strengthen our resilience in the face of these disasters? The answer seems to lie in our ability to communicate.
In “Building Resilient Communities in Time of Adversity” for Psychology Today, psychologist George S. Everly writes that “cohesive communities are resilient communities,” and points to communication and connectedness of two of the major tenets of such strong cohesion.
When disaster strikes, people can do as the experts bid them: try our best to listen to the experiences of fellow Waves, and bring their own experiences to light. In fostering communication, the Pepperdine community can build a foundation of compassion and empathy for everyone who is coping with the fires in their own way, and we give ourselves the space to recognize our own stories and experiences as worthy of attention and respect.
It’s our job here at the Graphic to inform our readers about natural disasters. But in order to keep our community strong, each of us has to be intentional about communicating our feelings, our thoughts and our ever-changing process of coping with the disasters that threaten us.
If one ever feels that they are powerless to stop such disasters, know this: how people relate to others and how they express their experiences are vital to the survival of Pepperdine. How we act in times of prosperity shows our school’s qualities. But how we act in times of disaster? That is who we are. Each of us plays a part in shaping the identity of Pepperdine, and we are the key to our communities’ resiliency.
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