A Call to Empathy: Thoughts From Chaplain Rachel Kessler

This article was written by Priest-in-charge of Harcourt Parish Rachel Kessler ’04 in response to the 2016 election

Like so many on this campus, I have a potentially unhealthy obsession with Hamilton. My favorite line in the whole show comes at the end of “It’s Quiet Uptown” when Angelica sings of the reconciliation between Alexander and Eliza: There are moments that the words don’t reach. / There’s a grace too powerful to name … Forgiveness, can you imagine?

Grace and forgiveness often are unimaginable concepts to us. I love that moment for the way it reflects healing love that defies all reason. But it only happens because Alexander spends most of the song naming his own culpability for his wife’s pain and begging for such forgiveness.

In the week since the election, there has been much talk about the need to come together as a country. As a Christian leader, I share in that call to empathy and mutual understanding as the only path forward. We must find a way to see the realities inhabited by other in our community – realities which may bear little resemblance to our own.

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A Guide to Understanding the Country that Chose Trump

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This post was guest-written by Eleanor Lopatto ’17

“How stupid are the people of Iowa?” – Donald Trump, Feb. 1, 2016

I took driver’s ed during the summer before high school along with about a hundred other Iowa teenagers. Once a week I had driving practice, during which a teacher put me in control of a powerful machine containing a classmate who had no choice but to trust me with their life. All of us were able to get our learning permits at 14 – a remnant of a time when most children in Iowa would have been proficient drivers by that age anyway, having needed to operate heavy machinery on their families’ farms. One day the instructor guided me through driving on the interstate for the first time. We took an exit ramp onto an empty rural highway, and I found myself driving the only vehicle on a completely straight, flat, and deserted stretch of road. “Okay,” he said. “Want to try something fun? Pick up speed.” I cautiously pressed on the accelerator as he edged me on, and soon we were breaking 70 mph. Then, with no warning, he pulled the emergency brake.

I felt a similar whiplash when I first saw that Donald Trump was the projected winner of the presidential election. For the past four years, I felt like our society had been moving in leaps and bounds in the right direction. After waking up on Wednesday morning and confirming the election results, I sobbed for hours. I haven’t been home since June, and I had been longing for the comfort of my friends and family in Iowa. That morning, I was no longer sure that I would be welcomed there. I was presented with data that proved how prejudiced and hateful my fellow Midwesterners can be. As someone who is female-identifying, queer, and disabled, as someone whose experiences of sexual harassment are still seared into my mind – I no longer felt safe in the place where I was born.

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The False Promise of Respectful Difference

This piece was guest written by Biz Berthy ’17

CW: This piece contains descriptions of sexual assault

The other week I was reading through a series of court cases from 17th century Virginia. My comps topic, very broadly speaking, is on gender and race in early American society. As a history major, and one who is interested in early America in particular, you get used to reading bizarre descriptions, to seeing strange illustrations, and so on. Most of the times we laugh at their absurdity, because we cannot fathom the idea of finding even the faintest trace of the same logic in our society, in our own communities, today. That is what history is: a narrative we tell ourselves over and over and over until it is finally engrained in our minds and we no longer have to even practice the act of storytelling; it is given. Yet, as I read through these 17th century documents, I found a case that I could not laugh at, not only because of the atrocious nature of the crime, but also because I saw an undeniable similarity between the way the case was handled then and the way that rape cases are handled today, four centuries later.

In 1689, a young Eliza Farrell and her husband pressed charges against Thomas Seawell for raping Eliza. According to Eliza, Thomas followed her home, sexually assaulted her with an ox horn and a lit candle, and then publicly shamed her by singing her pubic hair and shoving it in her husband’s face. Instead of Thomas facing swift and immediate punishment, the court chose to highlight the fact that Eliza was “swinishly drunk,” and unaccompanied by a man. Given that, they settled on Thomas simply paying a fine to Eliza’s husband, Brian, for “damaging” his property, and therefore, his honor.

Reading this, I was suddenly catapulted to this summer, in the year 2016, when I first read about the Brock Turner case- a rape seemingly so clearly abhorrent, so clearly violent, that I was foolish enough to believe that there would be severe consequences for his actions. And I was exactly that: foolish. Brock Turner received a sentence of six months in county jail, and was released after only three.

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