Today I wrote the following and incorporated Nikki Giovanni’s “We Remember” to serve as our opening reflection for Faculty Assembly. As VP for Faculty Assembly, I invite faculty to offer the opening reflection, but today I decided to address a topic on my mind.
For this reflection, I want to bring up something serious, something that may be weighing on all of us. Around this very time one week ago, I was eating lunch in the dining hall, deep in discussion with a student for her independent study, when I noticed a breaking news alert on CNN about another mass shooting on a college campus, this time at Umpqua Community College near Roseburg, Oregon. In our School of Arts meeting a couple weeks ago, we discussed CBU’s active shooter response plan, a discussion prompted by the fact that the shooting at Delta State University had happened so close to us. However, I think all of these shootings–whether they happen in Blacksburg, Virginia; Santa Monica, California; Dekalb, Illinois; Cleveland, Mississippi; or Roseburg, Oregon; or anywhere–feel close to us. We can measure their impact in degree, a proximity that transcends distance. All of these tragedies are too close. We may feel paralyzed or numb, fearful or angry, but we all know that college campuses should not places where we worry about being killed while doing our jobs or where our students have to fear for their lives as they are here to prepare for their futures as citizens, workers, and people–for their lives. For me, as someone who teaches first-year writing, I am haunted that the shooter in Oregon targeted his composition class; writing courses aim to help students find their voices as members of the academy and as citizens outside it. Such courses should be spaces where all voices can find their place. All campuses should be safe spaces.
For the rest of this reflection, I am going to read two excerpts from Nikki Giovanni’s “We Remember,” the Convocation Address given in the immediate aftermath of the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, and then read the names of the dead in Oregon. Following that, I ask you to join me in 30 seconds of silence before we begin our meeting.
We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.
. . .
The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.
Giovanni’s words remind us of our purpose. As we work to imagine the future and to guide our students as they invent it, we can hope that future is free from such tragedies. But we also know this progress is not automatic, so we must all–as professors and citizens–work to bring about that future in our interactions with our students and with each other. Today, as we prepare for that future, we remember those whose futures were unfairly and too abruptly cut short:
- Lawrence Levine, 67, Instructor of English
- Lucero Alcaraz, 19
- Treven Taylor Anspach, 20
- Rebecka Ann Carnes, 18
- Quinn Glen Cooper, 18
- Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, 59
- Lucas Eibel, 18
- Jason Dale Johnson, 34
- Sarena Dawn Moore, 44
[30 seconds of silence]