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Grieving with and for Our Neighbors and Our Democracy

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Association of American Colleges and Universities mourns this weekend’s murderous attack on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people at Pulse in Orlando. We grieve for the tragic loss of so many lives and extend our sympathy to all who are suffering from this act of carnage. We come together, sobered and saddened, in the face of this tragedy.

Some of those who lost their lives, who are still recovering from serious injury, and who are traumatized by the attack simply because of who they are include students at our colleges and universities. Victims and mourners together are sons and daughters, colleagues and friends, parents and siblings, uncles and aunts—suddenly united as a community in anguish. 

As we grieve for those who are lost and those who are still suffering, we think as well about the core principles that have been fundamentally violated in this and all other acts of destructive violence against innocent people. 

Once again, an American citizen—a young man raised and educated here—has defied the most fundamental precepts of a pluralist democracy, choosing hate over respect and translating that hate into a brutal act of terror and tragic destruction. 

In a functioning pluralist democracy, we commit ourselves—in principle and in practice—to learning all we can from the myriad histories and differences that enrich our communities. And, even when those differences seem deep or even irreconcilable, we commit ourselves nonetheless to respect rather than to violence.

What the killer in Orlando had in common with the killer in Charleston last year—beyond their use of devastating assault weapons—was a belief in the supremacy of one group over other groups. They both shared the conviction that they held the authority, and even a mandate, to murder those they defined as subordinate, less than worthy of life, or whom they perceived as threats to their distorted views of human hierarchy. This will to unilateral power stands behind so many of the murderous attacks we have witnessed and mourned over the decades.

AAC&U has committed itself as a higher education organization, along with the approximately 1,350 colleges, universities, and community colleges among our members, to educate students to be informed, responsible, and involved citizens in a diverse US democracy and interdependent globe. We work in partnership with our members to create more inclusive, equitable, and intellectually dynamic colleges and universities by embracing the diversities of people and of ideas that are critical to robust learning. We believe that deliberative and respectful dialogue across difference is a core liberal art, necessary to a democratic community.

Colleges cannot by themselves, of course, build all the capacities we need to sustain a diverse and equitable democracy. Democracy needs as well the principled and determined commitments of families and schools, of faith communities and political leaders, of businesses and community-based organizations.

And we need leaders who help us both value and achieve the core tenets of an inclusive democracy: shared and collaborative commitments to equal dignity, equal worth, equal opportunity, and equal voice.   

We all are harmed by this horrific act of violence against LGBT individuals and their humanity, by this retreat to a culture of gun violence against members of our communities, and by this damaging assault on the core principles of a just and sustainable democracy.

May we all respond to this sobering moment by recommitting to those core principles, for our nation and for the world.  

Carol Geary Schneider