I woke up as usual on Sunday morning, June 12th to my 2-year-old daughter crawling into bed around 5:45am. After a few restless minutes, we made our way downstairs where we were joined by my 4-year-old and I made myself that glorious, much-needed cup of coffee. I was excited because I had a gig at the North Jersey Pride festival that afternoon and couldn’t wait to celebrate Pride with my friends and family (yup, I am a student affairs professional that moonlights as a rock star!). Back to my morning – in typical fashion, my kids watched cartoons and I read the latest news on my phone from the New York Times. At this point, the dread and fear began to appear as I tried to make sense of what had happened in Orlando while my family was safely asleep. The knots started to form in my stomach and throat, and I struggled to read any further.
For better or worse, I made a conscious decision to shut off my emotions, stop reading, and not get too deep into the events that occurred. This was particularly hard for me because one of my responsibilities at my institution, and something that I am incredibly passionate about, is to oversee Safe Zone trainings as well as campus resources and initiatives to support and raise awareness for our LGBTQ+ community. But on that sad day, I took off my student affairs hat and focused on holding my children a little tighter. I remembered all too well that feeling of intense sorrow and dread after the Newtown tragedy that occurred a few years prior and knew I wouldn’t be able to hold it together to get through the Pride festival that afternoon. So, for better or worse, I listened at a distance, didn’t engage in social media, and kept my feelings at bay.
The next morning as I was heading into work, I was able to refocus on being a student affairs professional and quickly texted my supervisors. What can we do to respond? After some back and forth conversation, we collectively decided to send out a campus announcement to the students directing them to resources and local vigils that were occurring in New York City and the surrounding areas. Was it enough? I really don’t know. I still struggle with the politics of responding to crises on college campuses because at the end of the day, I don’t feel there is one right way for everyone. What I do know is that that it was important for us to at least make that announcement, and the second one that followed. Foundationally, as student affairs practitioners we strive to create safe and inclusive campus environments for all, and ensuring the well-being of our students is critical.
For myself, I personally continue to research and absorb what others are doing on their campuses in response – the services they provided, the resources and staffing they have – so I can continue to advocate for our students. Being a strong advocate and ally is something I am comfortable doing at my institution and in my personal life. What I am not comfortable with is the surprisingly hateful and hurtful dialogue I witnessed on social media within our own professional networks. On the day our campus sent out our first announcement, I literally broke down in front of a coworker because I was so disheartened with the ways in which we as student affairs professionals were judging and treating each other. We judged how quickly people responded or didn’t respond; we judged the words they displayed in their profile pictures; we judged each other for their privilege; we judged those who were in pain; we judged. And judged. From that experience, I was reminded that no matter what we do in times like these, someone will unfortunately judge. And because of this, I refrained from being a part of the bigger dialogue and only focused on the areas I felt I had a little influence over, for better or worse. So, one of the ways I know I can contribute to our field and in my own life is by assuring my students, colleagues, children, friends, and family members that I support them, that I care for them, and that I respect them- in times of tragedy, times of joy, times of sorrow, and times of fear. For better or worse.
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