The Duty of Remembering

It is easy, I think, to recognize the importance of good journalism in this day and age. Both on the campus level, and even on the larger stages of the nation and the world, there is a need for people to be informed, for institutions to be held accountable, and for stories to be pursued.

It is a harder truth to swallow—speaking especially as someone who works for an independently-minded newspaper!—that publishing newsworthy stories is often not enough. The past few years especially have been a testament to the frequent inability of news stories,even important ones,to make a lasting impact on those who read them. When was the last time anyone thought about, say, the Panama Papers scandal? Or the Access Hollywood tapes which many thought were sure to bring down the Trump campaign. There are hundreds of  other examples I could fit in here, and a few new ones every couple weeks.

The truth is that the news cycle moves at such a speed—there is so much going on—that very little ends up sticking. The latest controversial tweet, in the mind of many a media consumer, ends up with just as much weight as any number of newsworthy issues. As noble as a journalist may be in publishing any number of important stories, it often seems left to the force of chance which stories end up having lasting significance after their immediate impact.

This problem is also evident at Notre Dame, and in some ways it is compounded here by the nature of the school. Not only is any given issue at the school eclipsed by the next major one which arises, the high turnover rate of a university—people coming and going constantly—means that something which raises a major controversy one year will be accepted without question as the status quo only a few years down the line. The students, and to some extent, the faculty, do not have much clout anyway, but nor do they have the staying power to effect any kind of permanent change.

Consider the controversies of recent years: the announced end of University Village, the exorbitant costs of Campus Crossroads, the university’s housing policy changes. The conversations surrounding these things have all but disappeared, and there is no reason to believe that in two or three years, they will be remembered at all. The presence of Campus Crossroads will be accepted as if the buildings had always been there. Any university policy will be treated as set in stone. And so on.

There is, therefore, not only  a need for exposing stories and talking about them but there is also a duty of remembering—not only  the controversies of the immediate moment, but the issues that started long ago.

The need to actually change the parts of society that need changing overwhelms the perceived need to always put the newest subject of debate at the forefront of conversation.

Obviously this task is easier said than done. And not only is there a duty to remind each other about the issues of our time we have forgotten about, but there is also a duty to remind each other of such a duty! This piece does not offer any magical answers as to how such a task is to be accomplished but if I had to offer suggestions, I would point towards cultivating attitudes of appreciating history, not taking the status quo for granted, and being able to imagine the community one lives in as other than it is. However we create such a culture of remembering, it is at the very least important to have the task in front of us.

On the campus-wide level, the university’s decision-making process suffers from a lack of transparency, despite the fact that the general trajectory of the university and its future seems clear. (I could say more here about profits, our Catholic identity, and the like, yet this is surely not the place.) The totality of this means that causing change when change is needed is an extremely difficult task which requires, among other things, dedication. This dedication is often hard to come by in a world where so many issues at once scream out for attention, yet the same dedication is necessary for anything, anything at all, to happen. And so the duty of remembering remains for all of us to take up.


James is a senior studying philosophy, and theology. He enjoys classic French films and cooking tiramisu. Send him messages of support at jrahner@nd.edu.

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