“An attack such as this is an attack on all of us. We owe it to each other to cry out against those who would deny any of us our freedom, our right of expression, and our dignity.” —Dennis M. Hanno
About 80 students, faculty, staff and alumnae/i responded to President Dennis Hanno’s call to stand together against violence and intolerance, gathering in Cole Memorial Chapel to express sympathy for those who were killed and injured in the Orlando nightclub massacre, and their families.
President Hanno welcomed the attendees by reflecting on the college’s inaugural participation in Boston’s Pride Parade on Saturday, June 11. “So many members of our community came out to celebrate difference, unity and free speech,” he said, describing the day as heartening and inspiring.
The joy of the experience was quickly followed by the “tragic and senseless” terrorist attack, Hanno said, shocking and saddening members of the Wheaton community and the country. “What we can do is come together and remind ourselves why it’s important to support one another and to show our unity,” Hanno said.
The call for unity spoke to the desire of many in the community to be together following the tragedy. In fact, several alumnae/i drove to campus for the event, including Jane Martin ’74, president of the college’s Alumnae/i Association Board of Directors.
“I found the simple service moving and eloquent. I saw staff members I don’t usually get to see,” Martin said. “When I read Dennis’s post on Facebook, I was compelled to ‘go home’ to be with the community I love. They say that home is where they can’t turn you away. In the midst of this horrific madness, it’s where I needed to be.”
During the somber gathering, a number of staff, faculty and students lit candles in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the tragedy, and Lexy Halpen, an area coordinator in residential life and a program coordinator in student activities, read the names of the 49 people who died in the attack. In addition, a number of people shared personal reactions to the event.
Todd Brelsford, associate director of housing operations, recalled his own experience as an undergraduate 15 years ago, participating in a similar campus gathering. “It was September 11, 2001. We knew that the world had changed. That’s the world that our students have grown up in. And it’s a world that is becoming a scarier place,” he said.
Brelsford and others who spoke at the ceremony said that it was important to resist being terrorized by this violence.
“People want us to be scared to be who we are,” said Tai Feaster, the college’s coordinator for international and intercultural programs. “Don’t let people make you live in fear. They want us to be scared; don’t be. It’s okay to be afraid, but we can’t let that stop us from living our lives and being who we are.”
Vereene Parnell, associate dean for the Office of Service, Spirituality and Social Responsibility, urged attendees to counteract hate with boldness. “The world needs bold. Wheaton needs bold. You will be supported here if you are bold in the name of love,” said Parnell. “Be a student; be a teacher. We all have something to teach each other. But be bold.”
The gathering closed with a tolling of the chapel bells: 49 times in memory of those who lost their lives in the attack.