A Message from the President - Statement on Mass Shootings

Mar 25, 2021

Dear Members of the University of Dubuque Community, 

Like all of you, I have been trying for the past several days to absorb the tragedies of the mass shootings that happened in Atlanta, Georgia, and Boulder, Colorado. And, as difficult as it has been, to piece together the details of both violent acts.

In Atlanta, there are a series of theories ranging from targeted violence directed at other humans who are female and of Asian descent to sex addictions and purity cults, to name a few. What we know for sure is eight human beings died. In Boulder, 10 other humans died, one of whom was a police officer - a father of seven - responding to a 911 call. Both alleged shooters, Robert Aaron Long and Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, are in police custody. Between now and two weeks from now when our nation begins to forget and pivots to add these most recent incidents to our growing list of mass murders, a variety of pundits, therapists, politicians, and community organizers, among others, will try to frame the intent - the source - the rationale - the cause of these acts of horrific violence.

Frank DeAngelis, the principal at Columbine High School during the 1999 massacre that put mass shootings square in the public consciousness, said in The Denver Post, “What we’re looking at now is an issue for society, happening in schools, in Colorado, in movie theaters, in churches around the country, airports. We’re a country, a world, of violence.” And not to be outdone on the violence spectrum, prior to the spa shootings, Atlanta had been dealing with shootings and killings, as have many other communities - large and small - across our country. Indeed, we are a culture of violence. The question is: Why and what can, or should, we be doing about it?

I will spare all of you my attempts at pontification. In lots of ways, I am discovering I know a lot less now than I did in my faux-confident 20s. I do know that ascribing blame in instances like these, and in those we will undoubtedly read about and witness weeks and months from now, passes the responsibility cup from each one of us into the hands of others. That’s what we we’re conditioned to do; and it’s irresponsible to do so.

Author James Davison Hunter reminds us in his book To Change the World that we all operate within our “sphere of influence.” That is, each of us has the capacity to impact the world around us and to influence those near us - our classmates, neighbors, family members, and sometimes even anonymous strangers. My hope is that each of us will choose to live confidently in joy rather than timidly in fear and to be an influence focused on goodness, on belonging, on nurturing a culture of love, support, compassion, and kindness within that sphere of influence. Of course, doing so entails a daily, sometimes hourly or by-the-moment choice: that is, the choice to do good and be good, for ourselves and for the other. That commitment entails enormous self-discipline. It is a daily commitment - a way of life that is, in this “country, and world of violence,” radically counter-cultural.

But the University of Dubuque has, for years, been trying to live into a radically counter-cultural Mission. It is a place that is far more interested in forming lives of significance than adding to pedigrees of prestige - that much sought-after holy grail of top US News and World Report rankings. Yes, we immerse ourselves in our majors and minors, participate in extracurricular activities, build friendships, struggle with challenges, and learn to overcome disappointment, even while we learn to be humble in our achievements. And in the midst of that educational ethos is an underlying set of assumptions that are grounded in our historic faith commitments; that is, we were created for good, to be agents of good, and to be ambassadors of respect and love.

This work of respect and love for those around us also means that we work to help prepare our students to be better equipped to carry the load and share each other’s burdens. The Smeltzer-Kelly Student Health Center, located at 1994 Grace Street, is but one example of how we at the University of Dubuque can be ambassadors of healing to and for our students by offering personalized quality health care and counseling services. Students, if you are struggling, please reach out to the health center’s qualified health professionals at 563.589.3360.

Paraphrasing the poet Robert Frost, the core institutional commitment I have described is the road less travelled, but it is a road worth taking. It’s not the easiest road upon which to travel nor is it the smoothest. But it is a road that leads to a different vision for America and for our world. It is a counter cultural approach to living our lives that, one person at a time, brings healing and hope to a nation and world so accustomed to objectifying other humans and gorging on violence and hate. And it is a choice - for each of us to make.

Rev. Jeffrey F. Bullock, PhD
President of the University