College is a bubble, an artificial reality that keeps us from addressing real-life issues of life and death. Recently I’ve been questioning this bubble and its merits. Sometimes this makes me unsure about my place at school, but I’ve realized that it is necessary since life and death are part of, well, life.
The college bubble is perhaps especially present at schools with well-defined campuses, like Duke. Our day-to-day existence is vastly removed from the realities of existence in the real world. We use fake money called food points and have “free” access to excellent academic and athletic facilities. Our problems are what to wear to semi-formal, e-Print not working and having trouble registering for classes. This artificiality intensifies at the end of the semester, when preparing for final projects and exams becomes the most important activity of our lives. At this time of the year, exclamations of how important a given assignment is for our GPA, happiness and future are extremely common. It is all too easy to really feel these issues are matters of life and death, and to freak out accordingly. In actuality these aren’t matters of life and death, but they’re out there beyond the bubble—reality is out there.
This semester I was jolted out of this artificial world of college life when several of my friends experienced real problems of life and death. I began to find it difficult to concentrate on normal college tasks that usually seem important, like planning social events or completing assignments. When the real world continues out there, when tragic deaths and illnesses continue to occur even though we are in this bubble of safety, it’s challenging to continue to emphasize the “big problems” of college life.
It’s tempting to blissfully exist within the bubble. Even when violent conflicts are breaking out in other countries, we can easily ignore them and glide through life in the safety of our Duke bubble. We operate within a framework of “these things don’t happen at Duke.” Real matters of life and death don’t happen.
But, that’s a false sentiment and just part of the artificiality of college life. Death isn’t only exclusive to far-away countries and far-removed places. Death does come to campus. There are accidents. There is illness. As I write this, there is probably a Duke student, faculty member or staff person whom I don’t know suffering from a terminal illness. Reality isn’t just “out there,” outside the bubble of college, but also in here.
This semester I was repeatedly made aware of this artificiality as people close to me suffered illness, injury, assault and death. I was forced to confront the reality of life: that it necessitates death. I don’t mean to be morbid, but we have to face the fact that life is transient. It is necessary to acknowledge this, because the real world is where we actually exist, not the artificial college bubble.
Death as a topic for discussion is usually taboo at universities, but it’s important to put it on the table. If death does come up, it is often discussed in an abstract distant way, in terms of casualty statistics. Rarely is it addressed in terms of students’ lives and the lives of their loved ones, in terms of navigating life and death in real life.
And navigating life and death is exactly what we must do, both in our personal lives and as we become the “leaders of tomorrow.”
I encourage all of us to start being the leaders of tomorrow now by considering death, and while doing so, considering life. For many people, the month of December is a time to spread joy and goodwill, inspired by religious holidays and New Year’s resolutions. Consider spreading joy by working to preserve life. This isn’t a battle against death, but an effort to improve conditions and chances of life. Work at a soup kitchen. Get involved with medical aid for low-income individuals. Donate to medical research efforts. Protect the environment. And break free of the college bubble.
If you read my column regularly, you probably know by now that I’m all about the environment. And there are several reasons for that. But the main one is a dedication to protecting life in an effort to avoid certain tragedies, like death caused by pollution, malnutrition from environmental degradation and other environmentally caused, and avoidable, deaths.
So I’m putting death on the table. Not to freak us out, but to highlight life. We can’t really talk about protecting life, whether it concerns the environment or human illness, without acknowledging death.
Let’s get out of the bubble.
Hannah Anderson-Baranger is a Trinity junior. This is her final column of the semester.