Two weeks ago, I scheduled a dialogue on campus to discuss the recent attacks in Paris and encourage college-wide discourse among students, faculty, and staff who are from countries where violence is a normal occurrence, as well as those from countries with a history of peace and tolerance. Having spent the first 12 years of my life in a country where political unrest frequently interrupted the school calendar for weeks at a time, where curfews were routine during the worst periods of violence, and where my own family was forced to flee and migrate to the United States, I am no stranger to these issues.
The campus’ level of interest in discussing violence at home and violence abroad amazed me. Students, faculty, and staff from diverse backgrounds engaged in a civil discussion, opened their hearts and minds to each other’s experiences, and shared their common and unique lenses on the current events as well as their own experiences. The community also shared concern for the treatment of certain groups, the increase of discrimination based on race, religion, and the acts of a few. In the end, what was most surprising to me was the concern across the community for their own safety on campus.
Our veteran students were represented in great numbers at this forum. Their message was clear and was one of safety. They expressed concern for the fact that our campus police force is not armed. Our college’s flagship campus is situated in an idyllic, wealthy suburban setting. Our second largest location is an urban campus with lots of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity. While the probability of a fatal incident occurring is very low, the probability still exists. I was also surprised by the sense of duty and the magnanimity of our veteran students who shared that as part of their oath, if something were to happen on campus, they would defend their fellow students, faculty, and staff. They explained that their vow is not only applicable to the battlefield, but also to the quotidian civilian life.
While college debt, the value of a college education, the value of a liberal arts education, competency-based learning, accountability, and other topics remain at the forefront of public interest in higher education, sadly the issue of safety has become one of growing and serious concern.
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