Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. Saturday. Sunday. Repeat.
It seems like every single day, I wake up to another senseless act of violence. Police brutality, shootings at mosques, and other hate crimes continue to saturate the media, causing me to wonder when enough will finally be enough. However, the privilege I hold as a white female means that oftentimes, my feelings of personal safety remain unchanged. Orlando was different. I was on vacation with my partner when I received word on the attack in Orlando, and we, like many others, were glued to our phones, hoping to gain more information about the situation.
When we learned that an LGBTQ nightclub had been targeted, my heart sank. My heart sank for the 49 lives lost, for the LGBTQ and Latinx communities. And my heart sank because that could have been me, and that could have been my story. Columbus Pride was the weekend following the attacks, and I had penciled the parade into my calendar months beforehand. After finding a good viewing spot for the event, my partner outlined a meeting place, so that we could find each other if something like Orlando were to happen in Columbus. That Pride parade was the first time I was genuinely scared for my safety because of my identity. Many of our students feel the same way every single time they walk outside. So how do we help? What do we do?
There are no clear-cut solutions to tragedies like these. There will never be a right answer, a perfect plan, or a course of action without criticism. But coming from a place of care in your work is a great start. So check in. Ask if students are okay, or if they need to chat. Provide opportunities to dialogue in a group setting or one on one, but respect that not everyone processes the same way or feels safe in those spaces.
Don’t be afraid to talk with your students, and don’t expect those with affected identities to always do the educating. Step up. You’ll mess up. You’ll say things that are wrong, and you’ll learn from your students when you do. Nobody is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes, but if you’re coming from a place of genuine vulnerability and care, your students will see that. So let them know that you care – that you see them, that you’re there for them, and that they matter. Let your actions build from there. These tragedies will continue. There will be more Orlandos, more Luis Vielmas, Alton Sterlings, and Philando Castiles. The question is: how will you react, and how will you support your students when they do?
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.