As I slowly read the email sadness took over my countenance. These were things I never thought I would need to be prepared for. My heart ached for the students, unsuspecting young adults that sought higher education for a number of reasons – experiencing violence or paralyzing fear, not one of them.
Yet, these are some of the stories of our time. In the last 30 days there have been 8 deaths, most of these deaths of college students, and 19 seriously wounded due to university and college campus shootings, including yesterday’s shooting at Seattle Pacific University. How we got here will be determined by our historians, social scientists, ethical theologians, and psychological researchers, however today, in the moments of shock and grief, we are still left to pick up the pieces and come together as shaken communities to grieve, lament, and some how move on.
Working with college and university students who have gone through the experience of a campus shooting can be difficult as there are no easy answers and expected questioning, grief, and loss are a long process. What follows, however, are possible ways we can support our college students and their communities through these moments whether we are on or off campus, near or far from those effected, friend, faculty, staff, parent, pastor or laity.
Grief and Lament:
With any loss grief and lament will be present. These actions are caused not only by the physical loss of loved ones or friends, but by the perceived loss of order, security, peace and the way things once were -the old Camelot, even if it wasn’t your campus. It is the experience of a community that has been violated and questions of ‘what could happen next’ or ‘could this happen at my school’ are still very real -trust has been lost and tensions of suspicion and pain are high.
Help students find space and meaning to their grief and lamentation. This could happen through conversations, prayer meetings, lamenting circles, co-creative spaces where students can lament through varying art mediums and forums, a memorial or remembrance service, or candlelight vigil. Help college students think about these things, their role in understanding both worlds – pre and post event, but also encourage them to think about their role in helping their college or university community move on from this experience. How will they be a part of remembering the loss but also building on the new tomorrow?
Let the Questions Come:
Such traumatic events like campus shootings prompt many questions and discussions. Why X community? Why X students? Why not me? Why not them? How could this even happen? How could a good God allow such evil? There will be no limit to the questions or what types of questions that will arise, our students however, need a space to process their questioning and a safe space where they can ask and or talk about these questions.
While some questions will be theological and ethical, many will be political and sociological. What does it mean for a student to intentionally murder female college students because of his experience with women? What does it mean for campus’ to have their own policies about carrying guns on campus despite state laws and federal laws? What is the role of mental illness in campus shootings?
These questions are so hard and for many of these questions we do not and cannot claim to have the ultimate answer. We can, however, help students have forums for conversation and questioning. We can ask for respected and trusted authorities in our communities to spend time with our students and parents who might have some of these questions or create Skyping opportunities for conversation at the local, state, and national level. By doing this we acknowledge the questioning our students want to bring to the processing of their experience which hopefully will bring us closer to healing as communities.
Be A Part of the Solution:
Finally, by encouraging the conversation, when applicable, to go beyond grief, lament, questioning, and perhaps even beyond healing, we should help students and communities consider how they can participate in pragmatic solutions and viable problem solving when it comes to gun violence on our college campus’. We cannot set up false expectations that our students will change an entire system in one fell swoop, but we can encourage them to think about their role in creating change.
Too often we are hearing the question, “What else will it take until the violence stops?” This is in no way an easy question to answer, but perhaps the desire to bring about change will inspire us to be creative, innovative, and daring enough to create viable solutions and one day end the gun violence we are experiencing on our college and university campus’ and in our communities. Students want to be a part of this work even if they are invited in only to hear the conversation or have their feedback heard. When the moment is right, let’s encourage our students to be a part of the solutions.
These are simple ideas and yet by engaging our students in these ways I believe we will help them make sense of the senseless. May God’s love and deep grace go with us in this work.