A President's Reflections

In the wake of Orlando, a message to campus

Posted on June 13, 2016

My message to the campus community in the wake of Orlando.

 

To our Faculty, Staff, and Students,

I’m not often at a loss for words (as some of you like to teasingly remind me), but the events in Orlando this weekend are both heartbreaking and numbing.  Forty-nine of our fellow Americans dead, more than fifty wounded, some severely, in the worst mass shooting in American history. 

 So we begin another week wondering what has gone wrong in our world.  There will be time to debate root causes, to debate solutions, to engage in another round of weary finger pointing and political paralysis.  Like you, I have opinions, but this message is not to share my thoughts on sensible gun control or immigration policy.

My writing to you is to ask for your help.

We have our own LGBTQ community at SNHU and while we all are affected by the killings in the Pulse nightclub, it appears that the killer particularly targeted its largely LGBTQ customers. On Sunday, Los Angeles police apprehended a heavily armed man on his way to a Gay Pride parade, apparently with the same intent.  The world can’t feel safer today for any of us, but it must feel particularly wounding to be part of a group targeted by a killer in this instance.  Perhaps it is because we have made so much progress on the inclusivity front, most dramatically symbolized by marriage equality, that there is a kind of violent last gasp (I hope) backlash. I’ll do what I can as a citizen to lend my voice to the national effort for genuine acceptance and equality, but I hope you’ll join me where we can be even more directly impactful – that is, on our campus and in our local community. 

We need to find ways to support and reassure members of our own LGBTQ community, to let them know that we love and respect them as human beings, colleagues, and fellow members of a university community that prizes diversity and has a long history of welcoming people of all faiths, ethnicities, races, and sexual orientation.  As I’ve said elsewhere, we still have a lot of work to do and we can be better.  That work feels more important and urgent than ever.   Lin Manuel Miranda’s sonnet at last night’s Tony Awards included:

 “We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope

And love last longer

And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be

Killed or swept aside.”

 Our American flag on campus flies at half mast, as do the flags over federal buildings all over the country.  I’ve asked that we also fly the pride flag to remind us that everyone has a home on our campus, that no one is embraced less warmly because of who they are and who they love. 

 I worry too for our international students, particularly our Muslim students, faculty and staff. Like all peoples, some Americans can be callous and even cruel when frightened, in search of simple answers and easy scapegoats.  It should go without saying, but blaming Muslims for the acts of an extremist is like blaming all Christians for people like Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph, Planned Parenthood clinic bomber John Salvi, or Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, all far-right Christian extremists.  It is not so terribly long ago that craven politicians talked about keeping Catholics out of America, that Italians and Irish were considered non-white inferiors, and that racial violence drove six million Blacks from the South to the North in our version of ethnic cleansing.  A fearful America can sometimes be a hateful America, especially when there is an “outsider” or some “other” to target.  So I hope you will join me in reassuring our international students and our Muslim students, in particular, that we welcome and value them and that they have a safe home on our campus. 

 What can you do?  For now, even small humane gestures – a smile, a conversation, a reaching out – are available to all of us.  At the same time, we will continue to work on our programming, policies, and support systems and to speak out in the face of intolerance.  I wish I could wrap a protective bubble around the most vulnerable among us, to insulate them from a hurtful comment or the hateful glare.  I wish that today I could promise that two men holding hands on Elm Street or a woman with her head veiled doing her groceries would always find acceptance, never mind basic safety.  After Orlando, that promise is harder to make than ever.   

 However, together we can make at least make SNHU a place where the ignorant comment or even slur is unacceptable and that all members of our community know they are accepted – better yet, embraced – for who they are as individuals, and that in the complexity and diversity of our beliefs, skin colors, sexual orientations, family structures, and cultural practices we find wonder and inspiration and yes, love for one another.  We certainly need it.

 

 

31 thoughts on “In the wake of Orlando, a message to campus

  1. Walt says:

    Mr. Leblanc,

    We continue to keep the faith in our planet of people. The mistakes of others are getting harder to forgive. It is good to know that a leader of an educational community gets that the people we share these lands with are the reason we cry, shake our heads in disbelief and demand a change from those who get to speak on our behalf. Thank you for going through this life with your eyes open, seeing the greatness in all and providing a platform for anyone/everyone to better themselves through knowledge. I appreciate your commitment to the people of this world.

  2. Brianna LeBlanc says:

    I have so many friends who are gay or bisexual and I attend the pride fest here in Colorado with them. It broke my heart hearing and seeing what happened in Orlando. Reading this brought tears to my eyes but you are right, just a simple gesture can go a long way with a smile or something.

  3. Ashley Cox says:

    Very well written reflection of the incident in Orlando.
    I send good tidings, compassion, and love to all family and friends involved in the crisis, those on the sidelines witnessing the tragedy, and those still out there in fear to be who they are.
    I support all of you and am so sorry for your sorrows.

    Thank you SNHU for being a supportive and equality driven school.

  4. Melissa Chewning says:

    Thank you, President Leblanc. Your words are truly inspirational and evoke a sense of unity in the depths of adversity. I hope that we can all reflect upon the tragic events that have unfolded in Orlando, and arise from the smoldering abyss of emotions with a newfound respect, acceptance, and tolerance for our fellow human beings.

    If hate is the guidepost of fear and violence, let love be the guidepost of regeneration and life.

  5. Liane Loveday says:

    Your heart felt words brought me to tears. I have a brother and a sister who are gay. I can admit when I was younger I was taught it was wrong and I accepted it. Through bible teachings I was taught that being with a person of the same sex is wrong and would lead to death/hell.
    Then I worked with someone who was gay who was a great person. I thought, how could he be considered bad? That is when I started to reexamine what I was taught.
    My younger brother would come home crying from school because he was teased for “being gay”. He denied it until his early twenties. I wish I could have been more supportive back then.
    What I know now is that we are all individuals just wanting to live happy lives in a safe environment. I have learned not to judge, but to learn from other people about our similarities and differences.
    What happened in Florida both angers me and frightens me. Do I have to fear for my brother and sister? Rodney King said it best, “Can’t we all just get along.”
    Liane

  6. Brenda Laplante says:

    President LeBlanc, thank you for so eloquently saying what is in all of our hearts.

  7. Stacey Davis says:

    Thank you for your words of hope. I am part of the LGBT community, I will not allow for such hatred to create fear in my life or my children’s lives.

  8. Deb says:

    What a wonderful post. Thank you!

  9. Julie McFarland says:

    As a student of SNHU and a member of the LBTQ community in Florida, I wanted to say thank you for sharing this message, and for all of your support for the students across the country as this tragedy begins sinking in. The support and messages I’ve received from my classmates, instructors and the administration at SNHU has been overwhelming, and I, personally, am very grateful.

  10. Steven Tompkins says:

    Dear sir,

    I could not agree with you more. In my short time on the planet, I do not remember a more devise, hateful time in America. I served her for 21 years in the Air Force and was proud to do so every day. I still am. We as a nation must find a way to turn the direction the country is heading around. We can be what we once were. But unfortunately, that will take leaders that can handle the job. Sadly, I do not see that in the very near future.

    I wanted to comment about the LGBTQ students at SNHU. I work at Brown University in the central IT department. I have worked directly with many up to the Vice President of Campus Life and Student Services on one specific issue close to their hearts. We have spent a considerable amount of time modifying IT systems to handle what we call “lived” name at Brown. In many cases, systems require legal name. For transcripts, FA, meal and housing contracts, etc. But in systems that are forward facing, we have made great efforts to show that name with which the student identifies. For instance, for some time we actually had the legal name which was male on a Brown ID that had the picture of a female! How embarrassing for the student and for the person working with him/her? Now we send “lived” name. We all have a “lived” name. For most of us, “lived” name = legal name. But that is not always the case.

    I pass this on as food for thought. You may have implemented some changes like this at SNHU. Thank you, sir, for taking the time reading my reply, and for sending that sincere and caring post. I am proud to be a graduate student at SNHU.

  11. Erica says:

    Love Is Love Is Love

  12. Tamara Martin says:

    People need to realize that Muslim is a religion and terrorists misinterpret the quran and do these awful things in the name of their religion. I would hope that the students on campus would not take action against any peace loving muslims at our school.
    I am an online student, I was born in Orlando, in the hospital that many of those kids were taken to. I have gay children and my heart was broken at this massacre. I hope that all Americans can look within their hearts and find peace in a world that seems to be going crazy.
    Do not judge everyone on the actions of one person or a group of people. At this time the United States is still a place for people to come to be free from persecution. I hope we stay that way. I hope that no one will live in fear to go out and enjoy their life. We only have one life to live. Enjoy it and love one another.
    Blessed Be.

  13. Erin Chiasson says:

    I am a new student to SNHU and never have I been prouder of the school I attend. This is a beautiful, heartfelt message reaching out to all of our citizens to remind everyone that we are equal, we are one, and we can overcome in the face of hate. Sometimes I believe it is not even hate but fear and ignorance that fuel the reactions of Americans during these trying times. For someone who lives within 30 minutes of Orlando with many LGBT friends and family, I am thankful for a school so far away that genuinely cares. This is the worst mass shooting we have experienced, and I wish I could just hold everyone. Thank you for caring and for seeing that the problem not only lies with the minority of radical Islamic followers, but with a country that is finding it hard to see the difference between a small minority of hateful people claiming that their religion guides them and a majority of loving people who deserve the same security and understanding that we all have. Thank you, Southern New Hampshire University and President Leblanc.

  14. Jennifer Earabino-Roberge says:

    President LeBlanc,
    This post was beautiful and very heartfelt. I was away when the tragedy occurred and my oldest daughter called me on my drive home expressing angst and fear. She is a beautiful, lesbian 18 year old who does not know how to be herself anymore. She questions changing who she is and living in a way that is not true to who she is. How do we talk to our friends, children, and loved ones now? Before, we applauded their bravery and loved them deeply. We would encourage them to be themselves and live true to their feelings. As a mother, I am numbed by the same fear and angst knowing this world is turning cold and cruel despite so much progress acknowledging the LGBT community.
    As a proud student of SNHU, the support I have received as a student is amazing. I wish to extend my support to others as well. If they need to talk or need a friend, I am here for them. Whether gay, straight, man, woman, Muslim or Christian, my heart and mind, my email and phone, are open for them day or night. This tragedy is shaking the core of who we are and I am ravaged by uncertainty, but I never want another person to feel the same way I do and feel alone. They aren’t. They have me.
    At SNHU we can all support each other and find safety, on or off campus, by banding together and supporting one another with heads high and the understanding that we are not alone. We may not understand what happened and what went wrong, but we do understand that we are strong, resilient, and beautiful in our own ways. Your words make me even more proud and honored that I am a student at SNHU. Thank you, sincerely and deeply.

  15. Gabrielle Dubose says:

    I understand how upsetting it can be, especially with me being a lesbian and married to a woman. Is there a LGBT page for SNHU? If not, maybe we could start one! Just a thought! 🙂

  16. Barbara Stevens says:

    What I can appreciate as an University is this letter letting them know that it is true they are just as important as anyone else. And they have a right to live just like anyone else. If one don’t agree with their lifestyle don’t agree but don’t make it there problem. Because as they are happy for who they are you need to be happy for you want us to believe. That young man problem was self-identity. Apparently, he has frequent this place either to target or his own gain. Whatever it is he had no right to take a life or put others in jeopardy. I accept myself for who I am because I believe in who I want to be and plan to be in my life. I love people and I don’t have a personal relationship in their life to respect them for who they are. I want to be respected just like they all should be respected. I hope that they can all feel as safe as one can be.

  17. Joe Johaneman says:

    I think it’s important to remember that there are online students being affected as well. They might not seem as vulnerable, but many are. I’m a proud gay man. I’m sure there are others like me, and also adjunct professors who fall into the category of proud gay men or women. But there are probably also members of the LBTQ community online who’d rather no one knew that they belong to our community, and that’s okay. Still, there should be resources they can access to talk about their feelings surrounding the Orlando attacks.

    And there are also students and instructors online who are Muslim. They might be getting subtly attacked without even the attacker realizing that they’re doing it. Language is everything, and doubly so when there are no other hints to indicate intent like body language or tone.

    What can we do online to maximize diversity and make sure students (and faculty) feel safe to express themselves? I don’t have any easy answers, but I think that online students and faculty can be just as vulnerable, and so it’s important that we protect them just as online students should be protected. I know that it’s hard to wrangle online students into web chats or other similar media when they’re all on different schedules. That’s why they chose to be online students in most cases. But they shouldn’t be ignored.

  18. Melinda Girard says:

    Thank you, SO MUCH, for this. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I am so grateful for these kind words. This makes me even more pleased with my choice of SNHU for my education. Thank you, thank you, thank you,

  19. Lynn Hunt says:

    Thank you President Leblanc for the heartfelt message. The tragedy really hits home for me. I used to live not far from Pulse in Orlando and have family members and friends whom are gay. It saddens me that people are targeted for the person they are and who they choose to love.

    I appreciate you addressing the Orlando tragedy and I pray for the victims and families everyday. I cannot comprehend what they must be going through. It is time for universal acceptance. #OrlandoStrong

  20. I cannot thank you enough for your message. I am in my third term of teaching at SNHU COCE and I have been raving about the program. Now I have even more reason to love SNHU. As a member of the Latinx, GLBTQ community and as a social justice researcher, I find it is especially important to hear words of kindness and expressions of solidarity right now. I am finding I need some time to digest everything before I can regain my hope and optimism so that I have the energy to get out there and continue to work for equalizing policies and social change. Your words have moved me more than you will know. You understood what many of us needed to hear and you are helping me regain my sense of hope. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I hope I can continue to work at SNHU for many years to come.
    Con respeto- respectfully, Jamie Franco-Zamudio

  21. Beth Crouch says:

    That was very well said. As a mother of a gay daughter, I always live in fear of someone doing something to her. I know she is an adult but I still see her as my baby and this hit home for me. Thank you for all your thoughtful words.

    Beth Crouch

  22. Brett Johnson says:

    Thank you for the kind and sincere response. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I must say I felt a bit concerned by the response of our country. The vigils and outpouring of love seemed much greater from other countries, such as countries in Europe and Australia, than it did here in America. I heard several comments from people blaming the patrons of the club for the shootings. “If they hadn’t gone to that bar, they wouldn’t have been shot”. Would this have been the same response had it been a straight club? I personally have felt a bit betrayed this week as well as a concern for my safety. Your kind words give me some reassurance that I am included in this world as an equal and we have all been impacted by this disaster. We should all feel a sense of loss, no matter what our path is in this world. Thank you so much.

  23. Stacey Cotton says:

    As a member of the LGBTQ community both at SNHU and in my own home town of Dallas Texas. I want to thank you for such kind words and support. We are just humans trying to live along side of other humans. We need to look at people the way that children do; they don’t see color, cultural differences, or who someone else loves. Only that they are humans and everyone in their world is equal.

    Again thank you and I love being apart of such a diverse University.
    Stacey Cotton

  24. Lisa Towles says:

    Wow, that made me cry and feel even more proud to be an SNHU student. Thank you for sharing your words, your wisdom, and your heart.

    Lisa Towles
    MBA student
    Oakland, CA

  25. Robin Zemla says:

    President LeBlanc,

    While we have never met, I want to thank you for your words of kindness, love, support and hope for us all. I am a SNHU student who lives just outside Orlando. My company lost 2 nurses in the tragedy at Pulse and struggle each day to move forward. Seeing your words, and sharing them (I hope you don’t mind) with my co-workers brings a small ray of light in such a dark time. So, I say thank you for posting this blog that reminds us to “find wonder and inspiration and yes, love for one another”.

  26. Fidel Garza says:

    President Leblanc,

    Thank you for you kind words of wisdom. I am too sadden with grief over the facts of last weekends violent turmoil. I will follow your words of kindness and remember that the LGBTQ community has a place in the world today. I know that I do not stand alone on this matter and that there are other people who surely express the same concerns and opinions. I am not one of these particular persons, but I am proud of what they are accomplishing in the the world today. I know of so many good friends that are gay and it does not stop them from achieving their goals in becoming a neurological surgeon, professional businessman, forensic scientist, government politician, pharmaceutical engineer. All of my friends express their greatest concerns for their loved ones and that is what characterizes them the most. Their respects for those that are closest to them makes them stronger and more susceptible to life.

    Warm regards,

    Fidel

  27. DENISE KILLINGSWORTH says:

    My heart breaks for all the victims and families of the 49 killed and the many more injured. Your words are heartfelt and soothing and express what many of us feel. I will do my part in showing my support for all involved and pray that others will do the same. I pray that the world we know today will not be the norm for times to come.

  28. Brandi Concepcion says:

    President LeBlanc:

    As a member of the LGBTQ communityI would like to thank you for taking the time to address the student population on this issue. I am an Orlando native and was acquianted with Pulse night club from it’s inception as a spot for our community. My heart goes out to everyone who was directly or indrectly affected by this event. Thou a resident of New York city at the present time, I did know one of the indiviuals who did not survivie the incident, I hope and pray his family will grieve in peace and move on. In general my hopes are that we as a community form a united front to combat the intolerance that is attacking our population.

  29. Isabella says:

    Thank you for the eloquence, compassion and passion with which you share your words, they made me cry. As a Christian brought up on fundamental Christian beliefs and doctrine, I value my faith and the values I have learned from it as a result. We are living in a fast changing world. I find that discrimination, prejudice, fear, violence and all vices that separate us as human beings are entrenched in our cultures. We grapple to create a world that is uniform and exclusive at the same time. We include those we accept and agree with, we exclude all those who seem different. I am not here to argue on biblical basis or any other doctrine, but I have found that I have much to do as one human to bring peace and unity to our world. I am here to extend my generosity so I can reach as many as possible, to increase my curiosity so I can learn and appreciate our differences; to inform my emotions so I can transcend fear and boundaries imposed by mankind; to love others regardless of who they are or what they believe. I find it is my personal responsibility to first love and ask questions later if need be. Love does not have prerequisites, it is the one emotion we can freely share with others because it has no boundaries and all humanity understands it. We must be deliberate about it in a world that requires us to go with the flow. Mindful loving and deliberate execution is what our world needs. If love is difficult to understand, its message lies in the simple Christian word, “Do to others what you want them to do to you.”

  30. Zeraph Dylan Moore says:

    Thank you for this excellent response that goes to the heart of the issues we are feeling in the aftermath of this massacre.

    I wish to second what Steven Tompkins has said about using preferred names within the online classrooms and other online social spaces of SNHU. I am an online student and transgender. While I personally am fine with my legal name being used in the COCE classrooms, since it has already been changed, I am very aware that this may not be the case for everyone. I can imagine that for some, who are not yet able to change their name, being “deadnamed” (referred to by a birth name that feels wrong to them or implies the wrong gender) would be a source of significant distress and perhaps even a reason not to attend an online college like SNHU’s wonderful COCE program.

    Thank you for your leadership, once more.

    Zeraph Dylan Moore

  31. President Leblanc,
    Thank you for such a warm and caring post. I am leaving SNHU, after this class do to being totally disabled. However, I want to say that I am so proud I came here. I am an online student, I was going for two MA. I hope some day soon to be able to return and finish both Master degrees. My husband is a Muslim and I am a Christian, both of us have friends who are in the LGBTQ communities here in Virginia. I want to give my heartfelt thanks for your post, reminding all of us that hate is not an answer to any question. I love my friends no matter what their race, sexual orientation, or religion, both my husband and I were raised not to see any of that. We do not see nationality either. After all this country was founded on the freedoms, and our Founding Fathers felt strongly about that freedom. I pray that this country returns to the welcoming country it always has been, at that the hate I see now will disappear, and soon. However, I fear it will not since politicians seem to thrive on hate speech and dividing our country, instead of healing it. At least I know that the college of my choice is open and diverse and welcomes all who cross its path. Thank you once again, I am sorry to be leaving, however, I hope that I take away from this experience the knowledge that this school is open and welcoming to all even those who are disabled.

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