I remember waking up on the morning of Sunday, June 12th around 6:00am with my two friends before we set out on a hike. I rolled over, picked up my phone, and saw the CNN notification that there had been a shooting at a nightclub in Orlando. I had brought it up to my friends and with a collective eye roll accompanied with a heavy sigh, we brushed off as “just another unfortunate shooting” as we packed our bags and filled our water packs. After hiking well into the afternoon, we returned to the car where we had finally gained cell reception. Naturally we took to social media to post our hiking photos right away. The second I opened Facebook, I immediately saw that the once shrugged off “unfortunate shooting” was being called an act of terrorism and an act of hate against the LGBTQ community… my community.
Growing up in the post-Columbine world, these mass shootings have gone from shocking, to heart breaking, to a societal norm. They make news headlines for a day or two and quickly disappear into the abyss. The Pulse Nightclub shooting was different for me. The Pulse Nightclub shooting was so, so different. Not only was this the largest mass shooting the United States had experienced, but it was a shooting that was directly targeted at human beings that love the same way I love. Each and every mass shooting without a doubt has had an impact on my life in some way, shape, or form; but the Pulse Nightclub shooting sent shots into my soul that echoed with reminders that while we work towards equality, there will always be hate that attempts to consume the love.
Taking time over the past month to reflect on the Pulse Nightclub shooting and the countless of other tragedies that have occurred in our world, such as the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, these singular tragedies can send the same soul-shattering bullets into the lives of the students we work to feverishly develop. These tragedies occur almost on a weekly, if not daily basis, where one of our students can say “that could have easily been me” simply based off a singular identity she/he/ze possesses. Simply saying a prayer or sending positive thoughts for those that are impacted is not enough with the current state of madness we are experiencing. Action has to be the follow-up step if we truly want to move towards a world where love can actually conquer hate.
Action can be hard when you are standing with a mess of mayhem that may or may not directly impact you. When it’s a tragedy where you can see yourself in the victims, action is easy because you can place yourself in the situation which can inspire the motivation to speak up and create that much needed change. When it’s a tragedy where you cannot see yourself in the victims, action is more difficult and calls on the priceless power of empathy to rise to the occasion. I firmly believe that empathy is a gift that everyone possesses, but some were blessed with an abundance of empathy that naturally sparks the fire of change to take place.
For someone that doesn’t have a plethora of natural empathy at my fingertips, it requires me to dive a little deeper to ignite that spark. Whether you have the natural empathy gift or you have to find where you last left it, empathy has to show up for our students if action is going to take place. Dig deep to place yourself in their shoes when a tragedy strikes. Action doesn’t always have to be a national policy change to be classified as action. You might be the only person that one of your students has. Show up for your students. Be with your students. Find what you need to find in order to help spark the fire or find the wood to keep it burning.
This post is part of our #SAprosContribute series, which aims to answer the question: How can you contribute solutions or actions when a tragedy like Orlando occurs as a Student Affairs professional? We will hear from Student Affairs Professionals of all backgrounds on their take on contributing to make positive change on campus after a tragedy. For more info, please see Mehtap’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series.