Since the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, sales of dystopian novels like George Orwell’s 1984 and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale have skyrocketed. Interestingly, these increased sales coincided with my English class reading Atwood’s novel for class this week, and in an in-class presentation, a classmate noted similarities between Atwood’s text and events occurring right now in the U.S. — most explicitly in the closing of borders.
At this juncture, when there are so many horrible events occurring across the world, what role might academia play? How do we study in such an environment? For me, the turn to dystopian novels is fascinating since the Arts are sometimes marginalized among students, seen as unpractical in comparison to other degrees.
As the increase in dystopian novel sales suggest, we can no longer ignore social issues.
Yet as the increase in dystopian novel sales suggest that, under a regime like Trump’s, we can no longer ignore social issues, whether of security, gender, race, sexuality or Indigeneity. With Trump being someone who wields so much of his power through words, the Arts are a place that, for the next four years, will have importance responding to and challenging Trump’s pro-white, nationalist arguments.
Concurrent with these social issues are issues of climate change, which are slowly seeping into all faculties because of pervasive climate changes across the planet. Trump is contributing to this issue as well, hiring a climate change denier as Environment Minister, redirecting NASA research from climate change to deep space, and approving the construction of pipelines (which our own government has also recently done).
At this point in time, I think it is important to think of the “uni” in university. As institutions, universities need to unite across disciplines to try and help a world in which borders are becoming highly politicized zones that are dividing people based on arbitrary lines. The humanities, through of study of dystopias, might align with social scientists, who study how people like Trump gain power — a phenomenon also studied in business and law.
It is important to think of the “uni” in university.
The Faculties of Native Studies and Arts might facilitate conversations about Treaty rights, which should be considered across campus, and in light of pipelines and climate change. Issues of sustainability might also include sustainable engineering and agriculture projects and climate knowledge from the hard sciences and renewable resources. To ensure that a racist, sexist, colonial prime minister is never again elected, the Faculty of Education might prepare its teachers to share ideas of community, connection, tolerance and sustainability with their students. And nursing, psychology and other departments might help with physical and mental health problems that will inevitably arise in such a challenging time.
What does it mean, then, to be in university in this era? I argue that it means we must look to all departments and ask the ways can we unite to help solve our current mess of problems. In a world that wants to erect borders and walls, I think we should work on tearing them down through community and communication.