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Tragedies and DU response

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Rebecca Chopp

Letter  •

To: All DU students, faculty and staff

Dear friends,

Too often, I find myself writing in the wake of tragedy—from natural disasters, to mass shootings and bombings, to racial or other crises erupting across our nation—attempting to find ways that our community can come together and make sense of national and global news.

Shortly after my note less than a month ago, in response to the shooting in Orlando that killed so many at the Pulse gay nightclub, there were bombings in Istanbul, Baghdad and Saudi Arabia. Like many of you, I read in horror of the senseless loss of human life.

Last Thursday, we awoke to news that Alton Sterling and Philando Castile had been killed by police—adding to the growing list of Americans, too many of them black and Latino, killed at the hand of law enforcement and exacerbating concerns about the effects of racism in our country.

And although these concerns are shared by so many of us, for many people of color, the fear—for themselves, for their friends and for loved ones—is a frighteningly real and daily lived experience.

Friday morning, we awoke to news that Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa—all Dallas police officers—had been shot dead, with several others wounded. These officers were killed while protecting the public during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.

And, yesterday, we learned of yet more loss of life in Michigan as two bailiffs were killed inside a courthouse in St. Joseph.

This violence is heartbreaking. We feel so many different emotions, including, at times, helplessness, outrage and even despair. However, if there is a sign of hope amidst these tragedies—and so many others that occur around the world, often overlooked by American media—it is that people are uniting. We are talking about the serious underlying issues that contribute to this violence. We are having difficult conversations about topics many have previously avoided.

Thanks are due to Tracey Peters, one of our leaders at the Center for Multicultural Excellence, who last Friday organized an event for solidarity that drew a crowd of more than 100 and garnered local media coverage. Like the event hosted by Thomas Walker in the wake of the Orlando shooting, Friday’s event gave those of us present the ability to connect, to commiserate and to commit to action.

What is the role of a university with respect to such tragedy? What can we—the University of Denver community—do? The very purpose of an education from the University of Denver is to equip students with the skills necessary to advance the public good. But we also have a proactive role to play. I have asked two members of my senior staff, Lili Rodriguez and Frank Tuitt, to organize various forums and events this fall for us to continue to engage in these often difficult conversations with compassion and empathy for everyone in our community. We will take the coming weeks to flesh out what the fall's events will look like. We will draw on the intellectual strength of our community as well as the passion of so many who are dedicated to the ideals of a just and equitable democracy.

At our best, the University of Denver is a convener. At times, unfortunately, we must convene our own internal community to grieve and process tragedy. At other times, we have the ability to convene as an intellectual community committed to effective change in the world, and fueling that change with knowledge born of research, scholarship and inquiry.

As our nation and our community continue to mourn these terrible losses of late and wrestle with the kind of nation we are and aim to be, I encourage us all to think about how we can contribute, collectively, to change our world for the better and create a more just and inclusive society, starting right here at DU.


Rebecca Chopp