In the Wake of Orlando

The American, NH, SNHU and Pride flag flying at half-staff on the SNHU campus.

The following is SNHU President Paul LeBlanc’s message to the university community in the wake of Orlando.

To our faculty, staff and students,

I’m not often at a loss for words (as some of you like to teasingly remind me), but the events in Orlando last weekend are both heartbreaking and numbing. Forty-nine of our fellow Americans dead, more than fifty wounded, some severely, in the worst mass shooting in American history.

So we begin another week wondering what has gone wrong in our world. There will be time to debate root causes, to debate solutions, to engage in another round of weary finger pointing and political paralysis. Like you, I have opinions, but this message is not to share my thoughts on sensible gun control or immigration policy.

My writing to you is to ask for your help.

We have our own LGBTQ community at SNHU and while we all are affected by the killings in the Pulse nightclub, it appears that the killer particularly targeted its largely LGBTQ customers. On Sunday, Los Angeles police apprehended a heavily armed man on his way to a Gay Pride parade, apparently with the same intent. The world can’t feel safer today for any of us, but it must feel particularly wounding to be part of a group targeted by a killer in this instance. Perhaps it is because we have made so much progress on the inclusivity front, most dramatically symbolized by marriage equality, that there is a kind of violent last gasp (I hope) backlash. I’ll do what I can as a citizen to lend my voice to the national effort for genuine acceptance and equality, but I hope you’ll join me where we can be even more directly impactful – that is, on our campus and in our local community.

We need to find ways to support and reassure members of our own LGBTQ community, to let them know that we love and respect them as human beings, colleagues, and fellow members of a university community that prizes diversity and has a long history of welcoming people of all faiths, ethnicities, races, and sexual orientation. As I’ve said elsewhere, we still have a lot of work to do and we can be better. That work feels more important and urgent than ever. Lin Manuel Miranda’s sonnet at last night’s Tony Awards included:

“We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope

And love last longer

And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be

Killed or swept aside.”

Our American flag on campus flies at half mast, as do the flags over federal buildings all over the country. I’ve asked that we also fly the pride flag to remind us that everyone has a home on our campus, that no one is embraced less warmly because of who they are and who they love.

I worry too for our international students, particularly our Muslim students, faculty and staff. Like all peoples, some Americans can be callous and even cruel when frightened, in search of simple answers and easy scapegoats. It should go without saying, but blaming Muslims for the acts of an extremist is like blaming all Christians for people like Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph, Planned Parenthood clinic bomber John Salvi, or Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, all far-right Christian extremists. It is not so terribly long ago that craven politicians talked about keeping Catholics out of America, that Italians and Irish were considered non-white inferiors, and that racial violence drove six million Blacks from the South to the North in our version of ethnic cleansing. A fearful America can sometimes be a hateful America, especially when there is an “outsider” or some “other” to target. So I hope you will join me in reassuring our international students and our Muslim students, in particular, that we welcome and value them and that they have a safe home on our campus.

What can you do? For now, even small humane gestures – a smile, a conversation, a reaching out – are available to all of us. At the same time, we will continue to work on our programming, policies, and support systems and to speak out in the face of intolerance. I wish I could wrap a protective bubble around the most vulnerable among us, to insulate them from a hurtful comment or the hateful glare. I wish that today I could promise that two men holding hands on Elm Street or a woman with her head veiled doing her groceries would always find acceptance, never mind basic safety. After Orlando, that promise is harder to make than ever.

However, together we can make at least make SNHU a place where the ignorant comment or even slur is unacceptable and that all members of our community know they are accepted – better yet, embraced – for who they are as individuals, and that in the complexity and diversity of our beliefs, skin colors, sexual orientations, family structures, and cultural practices we find wonder and inspiration and yes, love for one another. We certainly need it.

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