Berkeley universities

The Kasteel Well community feels mixed emotions about the war between Ukraine and Russia

Just 1,200 miles from the fighting in Ukraine, students and faculty at Emerson’s Kasteel Well campus anxiously watch history unfold as Europe teeters on the brink of war.

Last week’s Russian invasion has drawn condemnation from the Member States of the European Union, including the Netherlands. At the castle, students and teachers have difficult discussions about the war. And while the college has yet to have a formal conversation about it outside of the classroom, many students believe there should be.

“I wish there were spaces available to discuss this,” said Tyler Kavanaugh-Lynch, a visual and media arts student in the Netherlands. “[I want to know] what the other people of the Castle think. I would like a stronger sense of community.

Kavanaugh-Lynch said the only communication from the college regarding the dispute was an email from Kasteel Well executive director Rob Duckers on March 1, five days after the dispute began, who reassured students that he there is no current threat to the castle or the Netherlands.

“At this time, there does not appear to be any direct cause for concern,” the email read. “The conflict is over 1,200 miles away and although the European Union has presented a united front against Russia’s actions and condemned them, there is no state of war [between the EU and Russia].”

“We realize that the current unrest can cause stress and anxiety among our student body. Understandable,” the email continued. “I hope this post helps put things into perspective and hopefully put some peace of mind.”

Seth Bledsoe, a professor at the castle who also teaches at Radboud University in nearby Nijmegen, said Radboud’s administration held a conference on the day the invasion began regarding the crisis in Ukraine as part of a a series of routine conferences that the university organizes to discuss current affairs. .

“I had just learned that the actual invasion had started that morning, then I saw a sign saying that [Radboud] was going to have a conference about it,” he said. “I hope they do another one. We have structures in place [at Radboud] and a really great team who are experienced organizers and are really good at [feeling] take the pulse of the big issues.

Professor Bianca Janssen Groesbeek, who has taught various ethics courses and a specialist seminar at Kasteel Well since 2003, said she was unsure how the war between Russia and Ukraine would play out.

“I take a step back and don’t jump to conclusions,” she said. “We were all surprised to see that there is now an all-out war in Ukraine, and I am worried.”

However, she added that war should not become a dominant topic of conversation in class unless it is necessary.

“When it’s on your mind, [students] can talk to me about everything [one-on-one],” she said. “But if it’s within the class and relevant, then yes – I wouldn’t. [bring it up otherwise]. It would be a bit strange to get into a political discussion when the subject of the course is completely different.

Bledsoe uses his sociology class to allow students to talk about conflict in a formal way.

“[Today] this is the first time we have met since [the start of the war],” he said. “I thought afterwards that I should have talked about something in class, but I didn’t talk about it at all because I hadn’t even watched the news that day. I knew it had happened [only] by conversation. It helps to have the chance to sit down and talk.

Ralph Trost, who has been teaching history at Kasteel since 2006, said he approaches the conflict as a historian, from an academic perspective.

“If I hear something in the news, I discuss it, or sometimes a student asks me what I think about something,” he said. “When we talk about the Second World War, I say: ‘How can you compare this with what happened before? How can you compare what happened in Russian history or Soviet history with the situation today? »

Trost said this approach — looking at the situation in context — helped ease student concerns. He added that viewing the war as a passing historical incident allows students to understand it in continuity with other significant events.

“I used to teach here during the day [former U.S. President Donald] Trump got elected and I said to my students, ‘I don’t think this will happen,’ and then it happened,” he said. “The next morning I had two classes full of students crying, and I told them, ‘It will be over for a day. If we panic, it won’t help us. Let’s make the best of it,’ and they did. [through his presidency].”

“Now Trump is over, and so will the war,” he added.

Despite positive reactions from students discussing the invasion in classrooms, Groesbeek said the dynamics at Kasteel Well have not materially changed since the invasion.

“I asked a student: ‘How is the atmosphere at the Château?’ “, did she say. “Ukraine was not even mentioned.

Still, other professors say they’ve seen students grow increasingly worried about the conflict, not least because of their exposure to news on social media platforms.

“[I’ve received] fear it will be a distraction, at least,” Bledsoe said. “It causes anxiety and stress, in terms of concentration. It’s impossible to get out of our minds – on the one hand we have to be attentive, but at the same time you can’t open TikTok or Twitter or any other news without it being there, occupying our mental space.

For Kavanaugh-Lynch, the countless posts about the conflict have turned social media into something more than a lighthearted way to connect with friends.

“It’s really frustrating to see immediate wartime propaganda kick into high gear on these social media platforms that I usually go to to connect with people,” he said. “[There is] a lack of self-reflection or critical thinking. It’s such a hellish purgatory between real political conversation and some weird fandom space that I don’t want to hear a thing about what’s happening on Twitter, I don’t want to hear anything about what’s happening on TikTok – I have to completely get off. ”

Castle officials have announced no changes to their academic excursions, none of which were previously scheduled to Eastern European cities. Kavanaugh-Lynch said he was not worried about traveling to Europe, but understood if others were doing so because of the protests unfolding across the country.

“When it comes to visiting big cities like Berlin or Amsterdam where there are currently very large protests, everyone should make the call that makes them feel safe,” he said. “But it’s not something that worries me a lot. What world is Russia going to be in, ‘We have to eliminate the student from Emerson College in Mykonos.’

Students, both in the Netherlands and across Europe, are actively participating in protests and looking for ways to help. Trost, who also teaches at different German universities, says his students don’t worry about their personal safety.

“We have many movements in Germany [who are demonstrating and trying to help the Ukrainian people], we have a lot of refugees that we will have to help, but there are no big concerns for people,” he said. “We don’t panic.”

On the other hand, students in Ukraine and neighboring countries are facing unrest as many struggle to escape the conflict and its effects, including African student reports in Ukraine who were stopped at the border.

“It impacts their safety, it impacts their human rights,” she said. “The neighboring countries of Ukraine are worried because it seems that Putin wants the return of the Soviet Union. So would that have an impact on the students? Yes, but it’s on a larger scale, it’s people’s safety.