Thoughts on Oregon shooting and subsequent gun debate

This week has been really sad.  I heard heart-breaking news from people I care about who have been hurt in terrible ways.  Students at JMU being victimized sexually by other students, and the mass shooting on a college campus in Oregon. What’s perhaps most saddening – it’s not surprising.  It is horrifying, but not surprising, and that is most horrifying of all.

What happened in Oregon is depressing.  Unfortunately, this event is situated in a landscape of violence from Oregon to Sandy Hook, Syria to Burma. We are surrounded by violence. We are horrified but no longer surprised when these tragedies occur. It is clear, we must do something about the violence in this country: physical, mental, emotional, sexual, gun, and otherwise. It will require work, not armchair pandering, divisive pointing, and not just legislation about guns. It is systemic and will require our commitment to solutions on multiple fronts including, but not limited to: public policy about guns, background checks, education, mental health resources and destigmatization, more connection with friends and neighbors, more care for those struggling in our midst, more commitment to honest conversation that starts with listening, a reevaluation of masculinity in our culture, and more connection to purposes above our selfish desire.

I’m a hunter and a gun owner. I sleep with a 9mm beside my bed each night. Recently a friend challenged me on why I do so and the inconsistency between that behavior and my Christian faith and commitment to peace in the world. I’m trying to work through what makes sense given this challenge. He challenged me in a loving and meaningful way. There was no judgment or condemnation, but a call for self-reflection. It is an example of the very nature of friendship and civil society. We have to be able to have conversations with each that ask tough questions and galvanize our commonality toward meaningful solutions. My intention with this post is to do just that. To challenge you and any assumptions or preconceived notions you might have be they anti or pro gun access. I write this without judgment or condemnation, but from a place of love for humanity and sadness at our collective fall. Most of all, though, from a place of hope for our collective ability to get better, for me that improvement comes from my faith – both in my savior and in humankind.

It’s time we get serious about access to guns and the proliferation of mass violence. Politicizing tragedy is always a dangerous path to tread, but thinking, intently and passionately, about how to reduce violence is important. Sometimes events force us to have honest conversations.

Conservatives yell about the 2nd amendment, liberals yell about getting rid of all guns. This is, of course, distraction, from both sides, and is a big part of the problem with our society. We must focus our attention on what matters and what unifies us, not be distracted by the loudest, most absurd voices on either side. The constitution is a flawed document, if we kept to original intent black Americans and women would not be able to vote. Selective application of “original intent” is dishonest and disingenuous. If we take all the guns away many Americans won’t be able to hunt and provide healthy and economical food for their families. Not ok. However, wake up, nobody honestly participating in this debate is trying to take your guns away. Couching our ability to have a gun that can fire 40 bullets or access to a kit that can convert a semi-automatic to an automatic in the 2nd amendment is a stretch. If we go with original intent then folks would have black powder muskets and be melting down your silver pieces.

Mass violence isn’t caused by guns. Nobody truly argues that it is, again, that argument is only advanced by dishonest voices trying to distract us. And, passing gun legislation that outlaws all guns won’t prevent EVERY person from getting them somewhere. These are both distractions. We must focus our attention on sensible legislation that tries to ameliorate the proliferation of this type of violence. Access to certain types of guns should be regulated and most people agree with this. How we get there and what types of guns are, perhaps, more nuanced positions. But, we must start with areas of convergence.

We must also recognize that the fall of humankind has landed us where we are now. I am a part of this violence as are you. We must work together in the spirit of community and commonality to try and prevent these atrocities from proliferating. We must and can do better. I hope and pray that we never have to see events like those in Oregon again. As President Obama said, we are called to do more than just hope and pray, though I certainly urge each of us to hope and pray as we come together.

Thoughts on the Gawker Article – Men Sexually Targeting Women at JMU

This is in response to an article posted by Gawker yesterday noting a JMU fraternity male provided step-by-step instructions to freshmen men on how to target freshmen women for sex. 
If I was a woman on “the list” distributed by a JMU fraternity I would be hurt, violated, and angry.  Most of all I would be scared.  As a professor who cares for and is committed to student wellbeing I’m outraged and I’m sad.  Women don’t deserve to be objectified and targeted.  This is not a fun college prank or a harmless tradition, it’s dangerous and it is wrong.  I believe we can create a more healthy community.
Kicking one brother out is not enough, though it is important that he be disciplined.  I was Greek as an undergraduate, and speaking from my experience, these things don’t happen in a vacuum.  Others were likely involved and the organization needs an intervention.  This will be a failure of leadership if the a) University and b) fraternity national office does not pursue discipline AND CHANGE. If student organizations don’t further the mission of the university and behave consistent with our values they should be removed.  We must be better.
Men, stop. Your behavior is disgusting and dehumanizing.  Stop.  If you feel you can’t stop, JMU has plenty of resources to help you work through this.  We want to help, we are here to help.  We must hold each other accountable to change this culture of degradation and objectification.  It’s not ok and it is a putrid manifestation of masculinity.  If your manliness is tied up in sexually targeting women you need to reevaluate your notions of masculinity and, more importantly, of humanity.
This behavior isn’t cool, it’s not harmless fun, and nobody is vilifying your organizations.  You’re tarnishing the very founding purpose of your organization. 
These organizations currently represent the worst elements of masculinity, yet house the potential for greatness. Most of these organizations were founded on principles of justice, academic and intellectual pursuits, and socializing. But they departed from that long ago and the organizational histories from their founding have disappeared. They should be reconstituted including their national offices or just go away all together.  Organizations at JMU should further the mission of the university or not exist at all.  We must find a source of life and meaning beyond ourselves, recognize the inherent value of others, and transform our chauvinistic egoistical tendencies.
Faculty and staff, we must address these issues and help our students work through them.  Pretending they don’t exist or bemoaning the state of college student behavior is not helpful.  Part of our mission is to aid in the development of engaged citizens, we must do our part.  Students – you have the influence, ability, and responsibility to speak up, speak out, and preserve the values of your organization.  DO IT!  We need your ethical leadership on these issues and your voice!  Speak up and prevent these things from happening.  We can and must be better.  I believe in our ability to create a better university community!
Note – the person who leaked this letter should be commended.  We must, however, urge our young men to work to prevent these things in the first place.  That type of change is cultural and the intent of this post.  The fraternity has also indicated it is cooperating with the investigations.

My Digital Story

If I could sum up my experience throughout this course, it wouldn’t be a simple task. It dive into my journal that I collected throughout our Spring Break trip to Phoenix and center around the people I met and the relationships I built. I created this digital story to show the impact of this one week of my life. I hope you can feel the experience of the journey with me.


Go Confidently in The Direction of Your Dreams

This past week, we discussed a particular article in class entitled 7 Ways You Can Change the World and we decided to discuss two of the questions at the end of the article. These questions are powerful. As I really examined these over the past week I found myself almost being more impressed by the magnitude of the questions than my answers to them. These aren’t questions we really think about. Think about the number of times a day that you say, “I would love to but I can’t” for whatever reason. You can’t because you’re busy or don’t have the time, or you can’t because you’re scared of what might happen if you do?

What if you knew you could do anything and wouldn’t fail?

The concept of dreaming this big is a little intimidating. How do I conceptualize doing anything I’ve ever dreamed of if I knew I wouldn’t fail when we live in such a realistic and practical society that makes dreams coming to fruition so hard? There is an extensive list of things I would do if I knew that at the end of the day, I would make progress or succeed in making a difference. I would find the cure for cancer, I would eliminate all disease and illness, I would find a way to rid the world of bugs and insects (because ew), and I could go on and on about things I would change. Yet, there is really one, somewhat difficult task that I want to tackle head on. If I could do just one thing, knowing I wouldn’t fail, it would be to give every single person in this world confidence. Including myself.

Confidence can do so much more for a person than you may even realize. Confidence could be the reason a woman leaves an abusive relationship. Confidence could be the reason that a bystander stands up against injustice. Confidence could be the reason that someone gets hired. Confidence could be the reason that someone is the first to go to college in a family. Confidence could be the reason for the uprising of a great societal leader who works to stop world tragedy. Confidence could give the mind of a person with the cure to a rare disease the reason to become educated. Confidence could be the reason that we do anything without fear of failing. While confidence can be dangerous in the hands of the wrong people, it can also save the lives of those who suffer.

What is one thing you can start doing toward that goal in the next 24 hours?

Well, this is difficult to answer because how exactly do you give someone confidence? I can’t just hand you a card with the word confidence on it and expect you to feel that way. It’s not always a simple answer. I guess something that I could start doing in order to give others confidence, would be to find mine. I don’t think I can find all of the confidence I don’t have in a matter of 24 hours, but I can do things to improve it. I can start looking in the mirror and telling myself I Can instead of Maybe you shouldn’t or Don’t bother. I could probably start recognizing my accomplishments instead of dwelling on my imperfections. I could attempt to set goals and actually believe that I can follow through with them instead of being shocked when I am successful. I could just do instead of thinking about doing. Sometimes you’ve got to work on yourself before you try and tackle someone else’s issues. So, I guess within the next 24 hours — wait I will within the next 24 hours make strides toward my own confidence so that I can figure out a way to empower others to find their own confidence.

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Thank you Blaze

When I got into a cab this morning after traveling hundreds of miles north to Boston, one of the last things on my agenda was making a friend. The cab ride was short but was the most meaningful conversation I will have today and it’s only 9 am. My new friend’s name is Blaze and he traveled to America in 1997 from Congo. I am so thankful to have met him because in a time where grades, job interviews and follow up calls had clouded my mind, a simple “Where are you from?” brought me instantly back into focus.

If you need a refresher, United to End Genocide reported that 5 million lives were lost between the civil war breakout in 1996 and 2003 which already makes it the deadliest conflict since World War II. From my conversation with Blaze today, even this astronomic number is 3 million people short. Some of this violence originated when people fled after genocide was stopped in neighboring Rwanda in 1994 but the main sources of conflict have been and continue to be diamonds, minerals and oil. What is most heartbreaking is the list of war crimes include mass killings, corpse mutilation and rape as a weapon of war. Congo is the rape capital of the world which reports over one thousand women becoming victims every day (that is 48 an HOUR). In case this conflict could not get more disturbing, in 2011 a presidential election erupted in chaos and resulted in a mass killing that claimed 18 million lives.

I am not a government official and it would be hard for me to believe that any human that is can 1. grasp the tragedy of this situation and 2. quickly find a solution but what we need to do is keep talking. This this the most dire situation in our world right now but no one knows about it. What we can do as citizens is share the information in the paragraph above or go find the facts yourself and TELL EVERYONE. We cannot let this many lives continue to be derailed by sexual violence or completely lost. Thank you Blaze for bringing me back into focus.


What Happens When You Ask What About Me

How many times a day do we go through life and ask ourselves what about me? We as people have this complexity were we think about our needs before anyone else 24/7. This is not a bad thing at all. Sometimes it is what helps us get the motivation we need to get a college degree or get a job, while other times it causes a riff in mankind. When we are constantly asking ourselves “what about me” we forget about the others around us.

When we come into this world we gain different experiences, we each have our own story to tell. By only asking “what about me” we are loosing the opportunity to enrich ourselves by listening to someone else’s experience. We are a resource for one another. We can help each other achieve the things we desire. We can learn from each other’s experiences. We can develop a community of growth rather than community where mankind is constantly putting each other in a position where we can only think about his or her selves.

Instead of asking ourselves what about me, why don’t we ask ourselves what about the stranger next to me? Why don’t we ask them how their day is going or if we can help them when they look stressed? This answer is simple, we are afraid. We are afraid of being hurt or how the stranger will perceive us or we are afraid that wont is not enough. We go through life only worry about what we can do for ourselves and never wondering how we can help one another.

As human beings, we need to hold each other accountable. We need to start thinking about the person next to us. We need to ask him or her about his or her day and ask for help when we are faced with a problem. It is when we do this we will have a network of people to fallback on when we are faced with tough times and a group of people to look to as a recourse. We can look what we have accomplished individually and inspire one another to do something bigger and better.

Changing the world is something everyone thinks about when they are school or choosing a career path. But what if changing the world was tangible? What if all of us could be agents in changing the world? You don’t have to a doctor or a lawyer or a Nobel Peace Prize winner to change the world. It can be simple. You can start small, start thinking about your neighbor and ask them about their day and find out more about them. From there find out more about your community, what is happening there, is there Farmer’s Market? Learn about an issue that makes you passionate in your community and explain it to your friends. Continue to be kind to strangers; don’t forget how far a little kindness goes. Over and above all, follow your heart. Your heart will guide you and tell you what is ethical and what is unethical.

Challenge yourself to start thinking the person next you and you can be a steward of changing the world.

– Sam