Shimer College

April 23, 2013

On Violence

Recently a student asked me, “Why are you writing to presidents of colleges that have experienced violence?”

I once had a terrible experience when I was acting as an administrator (it involved several accidental student deaths) and I received a few notes from utter strangers. 

They helped carry me – and indeed, our whole campus – through what remains one of the worst experiences I can imagine. (If you do not know about the stabbings and gun violence to which I refer, click here or here, for example.) 

At a recent meeting of the American Council on Education, I attended a session in which presidents talked about their experiences of crisis. One voice was an Illinois president who lead an institution that experienced the significant impact of a shooter on campus. It was the first time he spoke publicly of events that happened several years ago. Violence happens. Tragedies happen. And, they change the worlds of everyone.

So, I have taken the opportunity in recent weeks to reach out to those whose campuses have experienced stabbings and gun violence. Yesterday (by the time you receive this), there was more violence in Boston that left 3 dead and about 140 wounded.  While not a campus event, the explosions at the Boston Marathon remind us of the many ways our optimism is tempered by violence and sorrow. Indeed, Shimerians live – and read – in a city that experiences violence each and every day, including all too many murders. This past weekend, for example, was a particularly violent one across our city. We are not immune.

So: I am writing all Shimerians, asking that we take a moment from the work that seems so important – from the writing (or reading) of senior theses or bureaucratic filling out of forms, from budgetary management to reading for class, from fund raising to working on administrative reports, to extend our community to those in Boston who we may know, and others who have experienced violence in their lives. (And, they are not only strangers as we, too, include amongst us people whose lives have been shaped in this way.) I ask that we remind ourselves that every day we have the opportunity to work against violence in our own city and in our own lives, and elsewhere. As we read together, let us not only ask how our experiences as Shimerians improve our individual lives – but how our experiences help us to make a less violent world. This, indeed, is an enduring question that calls us to live in renewed ways with renewed commitments.

In Nelson Mandela’s youth, when he was tried for the crimes that led him to spend a lifetime in prison, he argued for violence. By the time he emerged from that prison, he was a vigorous and respected proponent of nonviolence.  Regardless of our positions on the particularities of his arguments – or indeed of the representations of violence in the Iliad or other great works – we know that destructive violence is one of the enduring problems that we face together as a species. I urge us all to do what we can to support victims and survivors of violence – and to work together for a world where we do not sigh and look away, but act as one of our t-shirts calls us to act – for change.

Please take care. And please let us know of the safety and well-being of Shimerians who may have been at the Boston marathon. For, we too run, we too work in cities, and we too must change the world.