June 10, 2020
I have been thinking a lot about history lately. The history that we’re making each day and the history behind who I am. I spent a day this past weekend painting my old childhood bedroom to ready the house for selling. My parents bought the house when it was brand new, and we are the only family to ever live there.
As I got down on the floor to paint baseboards, I could see the colors the room had been before the last iteration. I had to stop a few times to think about how so much of my history happened in that room. From infancy to adulthood, those four walls held my memories. As my sister and her husband moved around other parts of the house, the sounds I grew up with — a squeaky floorboard, the screen door shutting, the clunk when someone stepped on the bathroom entry — made it feel like my parents were still there. It was a bittersweet day.
When a new family moves in, they won’t know the history of those walls. They won’t know my dad literally signed his name on one of the walls, which we discovered when the wallpaper was removed. Hopefully, they’ll be able to feel the lovely memories of a happy family.
My colleagues have been working on a fascinating MSUTODAY FEATURE: From Spanish flu to COVID-19, which compares how MSU has responded to pandemics a century apart. There’s a lot of history I didn’t know anything about and some great photos from 1918. As I looked at the images, I realized that someday people will look at photos of us in our Spartan masks or on Zoom calls, and we will be “the people who lived through a pandemic.” People will read about us in school. We are making tomorrow’s history.
Right now, the history we are living in is painful and uncertain. In addition to a pandemic, we’re facing ugly truths about not only our nation’s past but also its present. But we have the opportunity to write a different history going forward. We can act now to change the future by not repeating mistakes from the past.
Jennifer Cobbina is an associate professor of criminal justice who is using her expertise to find ways to make positive change. Her FACULTY VOICE: Taking power from police and putting it into communities, is important, timely and suggests ideas for moving forward like, “doubling down on investments in communities” to end the killing of Black people.
Rika Wakai is a recent College of Arts and Letters graduate who has spent time researching her own history and used it to direct her future. Though she grew up in the United States, she studied Japan, the country from which her parents emigrated to the U.S. and was drawn to MSU’s Japanese program. Read her STUDENT VIEW: Learning about home to learn more about her experience.
Though our present is currently unsettling, I am optimistic about our future. Every day there are countless Spartans researching, writing, partnering, marching, teaching, learning and creating change for the better. Just yesterday, the university announced an exciting and major expanded partnership with Henry Ford Health System. With a focus on eliminating disparities in health care, the collaboration is poised to rewrite history.
It’s important to realize that we are making history, even without trying. Whatever we do today will be remembered tomorrow.
In the words of Maya Angelou, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
We have a great opportunity to change the course of history. To use the mistakes of the past to change the future. But it will take all of us. Do your part, Spartans.
And, in the words of a dear friend, “Man, it's been a rough go of it lately. Let's all take care and be kind to one another.” #SpartansWill
Historical image of the Red Cedar River is courtesy of Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections.