To the College Community:
The spring semester should be a time of celebration for people of many faiths in our community. Last Sunday was Easter, the culmination of Easter Week for Christians. Jewish members of the community began Passover with the Seder last Friday and concluded last night. Hindus heralded the arrival of spring with Holi, the festival of colors, on March 21. For Muslims, Ramadan will begin on May 5 and continue through the beginning of June.
I know that many of us are shocked and saddened by the way in which this season of celebration has been marked by acts of violence directed against members of many of these faith communities in the United States and across the globe. Yesterday’s tragic shooting at Chabad Poway in San Diego, which has already been identified as an anti-Semitic hate crime, follows by six months the mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the deadliest attack on Jews in American history.
Last week in California, a man was charged with intentionally driving his car into a group of people he believed to be Muslims. In March, the world grieved alongside Muslims after the horrific massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, where a white supremacist killed 50 worshippers and injured 50 others at two mosques during Friday prayers.
Just one week ago, more than 250 Christians, a large number of them children, died in a series of suicide bombings during Easter Sunday services in Sri Lanka. These attacks, for which ISIS has claimed responsibility, initiated a wave of continued violence in the country.
When we experience a loss in our own community, we know how to respond and comfort one another. It is harder to know how to respond to events that do not occur on our campus yet can have a powerful effect on individual members of our community. Unlike natural disasters, acts of violence like these can engender, and are designed to engender, not simply sorrow but outrage and fear. Their purpose is to sow mistrust and create division. Even within a community as close-knit as Lafayette, this effect can be felt by members of affected communities who may wonder why others seem unaware or unconcerned about their grief and distress.
At Lafayette, we are committed to being a welcoming and supportive community for people of all faiths. This fall, we took an important step forward in this regard with the approval of a policy that permits dean’s excuses for students to participate in religious observances. I believe it is important to note that this effort was successful because it involved close collaboration among all our campus’ faith organizations. YoungLife, Hillel Society, Newman Catholic Association, InterfaithCouncil, Muslim Students Association, and the South Asian Student Association worked with the Office of Religious & Spiritual Life and the dean of students on a proposal that was supported with a resolution by Student Government, and then supported by the administration, the Teaching and Learning Committee, and the faculty.
At this difficult time in our world, I hope we can take heart from our own community’s efforts to be respectful of the diverse faith traditions that enrich and animate the Lafayette community. As we each struggle to process our own feelings about these events, it is important to be sensitive to the fact that others may process them in a different or more personal way. At the same time, I know that we stand united as a community in our rejection of the hatred, prejudice, and fear that these acts of violence represent. In this moment it seems right to reaffirm that our goal as a community is to offer each other instead understanding, respect, and love.
President Alison Byerly