Buffalo shootings spark outrage, sadness from higher education leaders

HBCU president: 'We cannot allow hatred to feel welcomed in our communities—no matter the race, color, ethnicity or religion.'

The anguish from Saturday’s shooting deaths of 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket filtered down to college campuses, with higher education leaders, faculty and students grieving, condemning and trying to make sense of the attacks by a gunmen seemingly motivated to kill innocent Black people.

The pain has hit most profoundly in the city where the incident took place and where the perpetrator allegedly had more planned. University at Buffalo President Satish Tripathi offered his condolences and perspective on the still-unfolding story.

“As we grieve together, we must wrap our arms around each other,” he wrote. “Let us bear witness to the humanity in each and every one of us. Let us, in our words and deeds, intentionally cultivate here a community that is characterized by justice, respect, compassion and understanding. As a scholarly community, we have both the power and the responsibility to combat hate. And to that, we are deeply committed.”

Presidents and chancellors are doing their best to extend hope while providing extended counseling services, forums and messages of hope. At the same time, they are strongly making it clear that hate and racism will not be tolerated on their campuses and should not be accepted by Americans. The State University of New York’s Interim Chancellor Deborah Stanley and its Board of Trustees talked about the “nightmare” that unfolded last weekend while addressing the reported manifesto that alleged 18-year-old assailant Payton Gendron crafted, discussing in detail a “great replacement” theory, or killing others in the name of keeping whites ahead in society.

“New York must address the scourge of white supremacy head-on,” they wrote. “Such hate-filled rhetoric has no place in our state, which prides itself on being known as America’s melting pot, where individuals of all ethnicities, races, beliefs, orientations, and backgrounds are welcomed and celebrated. The entire SUNY family stands in solidarity with the City of Buffalo and with the victims of this despicable tragedy. We call on our entire SUNY community to band together, offer each other solace and support, and always demonstrate the values of humanity and respect we lift up every day. To anyone who feels overwhelmed or is experiencing fear or anxiety, know that you are not alone. People are ready to help.”

Both leaders discussed ways in which their communities can reach out to help, either through campus counseling, diversity centers or through mental health services and wellness provided systemwide.

More from UB: How one college in Boston is helping fight gun violence by teaming with local hospital

For those who attend and work at the more than 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the news was just as heartfelt and shocking as it was in Buffalo. Morgan State University President David Wilson talked about the ongoing violence in the U.S., referencing five mass shootings last weekend, and the fact that 11 of the “lives lost were African-American.” Wilson also referenced how George Floyd’s murder galvanized much of the nation, but that the fervor to end it has ebbed. He demanded renewed action.

“Despite the overwhelming groundswell that ensued, it shockingly, and dishearteningly, appears that the normalization of social injustice and racial violence in this country continues,” he wrote. “In the face of this trend, it is imperative that we all are assured, and make it clear to others, that violence has no place in a civilized society. We cannot allow hatred to feel welcomed in our communities—no matter the race, color, ethnicity or religion. We cannot sit idly by during what may be one of the most challenging and pivotal moments in U.S. history since the Civil War.”

Wilson discussed his campus’s own efforts to address the disturbing patterns, including two talks taking place this week in the run-up to commencement called “Grow the Future” and “Lead the World.” Morgan’s history includes many run-ins with racism and struggles for freedom in Baltimore. Those fights continue.

“When heinous attacks against humanity occur, we need to stop and check ourselves to make sure we are doing our part to stop its unwelcomed progression from taking residence in our communities, our workplaces and our nation,” Wilson said. “Let us be reminded that what happens in one community can happen in any community and that one act of racial violence is a threat to peace everywhere. I encourage each of you to take a moment sometime today and write to your elected officials. Express your outrage about the state of current affairs, particularly as they relate to gun control, and advocate for tougher legislation. Push your representatives, at all levels—local, state and federal—to capably address hate crimes and domestic terrorism with ironclad legislation that prosecutes perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law.”

Other college leaders expressed their empathy for the victims, survivors and their families while discussing the gravity of the violence.

Notre Dame: Rev. John Jenkins and Rev. Canon Hugh Page talked about both the Buffalo shooting and the shooting at a Laguna Beach church that targeted Asian-Americans. “The racial animus that inspired the murders in Buffalo is the antithesis of all that we as a people stand for, as was the targeting of members of the Asian American community while at church. We pray for an end to the divisive rhetoric that has led to a growing and unacceptable environment of hate and violence that is tearing at the fabric of our nation.”

UMass-Dartmouth: Chancellor Mark Fuller, addressing both incidents, wrote to his community, “Racism, white supremacy, and hate crimes must never have a place in our society, and we must work together to build a world in which everyone can conduct their daily lives without fear of being targeted for their identity.”

Cornell: President Martha Pollack wrote: “It is tragic that shootings and acts of violence in our nation and around the world occur so often that issuing a statement in response to each would feel empty. But this shooting was practically in our backyard, and, as such, touches us all the more deeply. I write to express my profound sadness and anger, and my sympathy for all those affected by this shooting. We must find a way to end this evil, this hatred that destroys lives and communities.”

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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