Last night, students, faculty, staff, and members of the administration of SUNY Brockport gathered in in the Seymour Union Ballroom for a time of remembrance of an 18 year old, Alexandra Kogut, who was murdered by her boyfriend this past Saturday. The room quickly filled with students and the sea of students continued to flow in until there was not a seat, a spot to stand, or floor space on which to sit. What was also present last night were spiritual values, which bring communities together and are not always present in situations of domestic violence.
All too often, I hear stories of how people who were in abusive situations received no support from their churches or faith communities. Recently, I heard of a woman who had been assaulted and stabbed by her abusive husband. As she recovered from her injuries, she turned to her church, expecting pastoral care and support. She was not then employed because her husband would not allow her to work. So unemployed and healing from the stabbing and trauma of her husband’s abuse, she found her church unwilling to help her: they did not want to show “partiality.”
Since Alex’s murder, the staff, students, and administration have worked to embody spiritual values that have tied us together as a community. Efforts have been focused on what can we think and do for the least of thee in our community, which will renew, lift up, comfort, heal, and inspire those we are ministering to and ourselves in this time of pain and vulnerability.
A fundamental ethic of every spiritual tradition is to take the side of the powerless. This is a time when our campus is feeling as if we have just experienced an institutionalized 9/11. The freshman dorm where this tragedy occurred has felt like ground zero to those who have been there supporting those who live and work there. They have been to the residents there, something many churches are not able to be for their congregants. Our staff and administration have taken the side of the powerless and most vulnerable. They have demonstrated compassion, respect, and the courage to walk with others in the midst of their pain, grief, and vulnerability.
Sherri Rosenthal once said, “Compassion is the understanding of human suffering and the desire to overcome it.” Compassion is a gift we give others, which helps alleviate the suffering one is feeling and bonds us together. We become compassionate when we can remember that he/she is feeling like me and to place ourselves in a time when we had experienced something similar.
Another tie, which is binding us together as a community, at this time, is humility. Abraham Lincoln once said, “What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself. The sacrifices people have been making to help us move through this have been done without any fanfare. Nobody has attempted to call attention to what they were doing; they have just done what needed to be done – minister to the needs of our students, parents, and all those affected by this loss.
Marian Wright Edelman said, “The challenge of social justice is to evoke a sense of community that we need to make our nation a better place, just as we make it a safer place. “ This has been the overarching theme from many in leadership as we move forward. The gauntlet was thrown down that we be like phoenix rising and in the process creating a space where hatred and violence, of any kind, is not tolerated.
We have embraced the advice of Winston Churchill and found the courage to stand up and speak, as well as sit down and listen. So many of those gathered last night needed to be heard with deep respect for humanity. Martin Luther King Jr once said, "The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But... the good Samaritan reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"
We need to continue to reach out and help each other. We are at a space where all are hurting and what we need is to remember what keeps us alive, what gives us strength, and what do we need to be able to empower ourselves. What will help us move through this tragic loss is when we can remember to live while we are grieving.
We have to walk in the integrity of who we say we are as a campus. We say we are here to aspire, engage, and excel. This is what we must do. We must support each other in our aspirations and inspire each other to excel. We do this by engaging with each other with authenticity. Authenticity inspires others to aspire.
H. E. Luccokc said, “No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.” We will not move through this tragic loss by ourselves. as we work together, each doing our own part, we will continue to move forward, healing in healthy ways, thinking about what is best for the broader good of our campus community.
Last night, students took responsibility for organizing this vigil. Providing the space for them to do so was critical. As Booker T. Washington once said, “Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.”
It is the presence of these qualities, which will enable us to excel as an institution of higher learning. Excellence is not about what we do on this campus, it is about the attitude and the intent behind why we do what we do.
These are the ties binding SUNY Brockport together, but they are also the ties that can bind any family, group, or organization together at any time in their existence. These are the ties that bind; may we continue to stay bound together as a community.