Reflections on Orlando and Our Work

June 21, 2016

To the members of the Campus Compact network:

The murderous attack on members of the LGBTQ community earlier this week in Orlando was so shocking and horrifying that it was difficult for many of us to know what to say or do. At Campus Compact, we have all experienced the sadness and anger shared by people across the country and beyond. We have also reflected on how this event relates to our mission. In the spirit of that reflection, I share these thoughts.

Beyond the devastating reality of the murder of 49 of our fellow human beings, the Orlando massacre was a frontal assault on the underpinnings of a democratic society. It was an attack on a community that continues to face legal discrimination in many jurisdictions. It was a reminder that even the progress that has been made toward full legal equality can be undermined by the creation of an environment that makes it physically unsafe for individuals to access their legal rights and publicly claim their identities.

The use of violence to enforce inequality is the literal antithesis of democracy. Our system of government was created for the precise purpose of ensuring that force would be used only to maintain the laws agreed to collectively by the people. Those laws are grounded in the principle of equality. So while every mass shooting is a horror, the Orlando massacre-like the massacre last year in Charleston-is doubly pernicious as the destruction not only of human lives but also of the fundamental principles of our shared way of life.

In light of that reality, it seems reasonable for citizens to hope that every single public official in the country would join together in the aftermath of such an outrage to identify practical steps to reduce to the greatest possible extent the likelihood that such an event would ever occur again. In that effort, we would expect disagreement about the best means. We would expect debate. But we would also expect a shared commitment to restore the security necessary for meaningful liberty as well as the respectful engagement across lines of difference required for coexistence in our diverse society. We would expect our fellow citizens and our leaders to move forward by pursuing discussion and action grounded in our shared values rather than in hateful categorizations of entire religious groups.

As we all know, that has not happened.

At Campus Compact, our work is to ensure that higher education is contributing to the health and strength of our democracy. Through our grief, we are re-committing ourselves to continue the work of developing the kinds of citizens and communities we need if we are to deliberate together in pursuit of a just, equitable, and sustainable democracy for all.


Andrew J. Seligsohn

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