Who is My Neighbor? The Global Impact of Local Events

Jun. 17, 2016

President's Message: Who is My Neighbor? The Global Impact of Local Events

By Elizabeth (Beth) J. Stroble, President

On Sunday, we learned the horrific news that more than 100 people were killed or wounded at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Immediately, our thoughts at Webster University turned to the members of our Webster community at the downtown Orlando campus.

And then we learned some sobering facts. It was the worst mass shooting in U. S. history. It also was the 173rd shooting since Jan. 1 in the United States where four or more people had been wounded or killed. And as we have experienced in the other 172 shootings, reports used all-too familiar talking points: the incident was caused by a specific community (Muslims) and was aimed at another (LGBTQ), the violence was an attack on “American ideals,” or the incident was caused by a lone crazed gunman. Commentary ensued and details have surfaced, revealing that the shooter also targeted the Latino community as well as the youth community and that he had a complex and confusing past that may not be categorized into a simple explanation.

At Webster, we recognize in such moments of tragedy the increasingly complex and connected world of which we are a part. These events have impact on each of us as we seek to educate and serve in ways that become part of the solution to increased security and wellbeing for individuals and communities around the world.

The shooting at the nightclub in Orlando immediately affected the Webster University community. We are still waiting to learn if any of our students, faculty or staff were victims or the relatives of victims in this attack. We now know that college and university students from our neighboring Florida institutions are among the victims. While we offer our assistance in many tangible forms, we also offer sincere sympathy to those who have lost their students, friends, colleagues, and family members.

The tragic human cost caused ripples through the global community. At the time of the attack I had just arrived in Europe to meet with students, faculty, staff, and community members from our Athens campus location who, with me, grieved the loss of young life and pondered the significance of Orlando. These colleagues did not see the shooting as an “American” issue, but rather as a global loss, illustrating sociologist Ulrich Beck’ s observation that "the global and the local are to be conceived, not as cultural polarities, but as interconnected and reciprocally interpenetrating principles." We must see the world as our home and not define ourselves as subsets of independent, isolated, and insular societies.

I urge you to watch the moving reaction of my fellow college president Sandy Shugart, of Valencia College in Orlando, who reminded the Valencia community that there are “many kinds of victims” of this tragedy extending well beyond the nightclub.

Sandy is not only a neighbor of ours in Orlando; he is also the father of a current Webster University undergraduate studying in Webster Groves.

This is but one example of how we are all linked to a worldwide human community, especially in this day of instant communications and ease of international travel. The answer to "who is my neighbor" must be a global one and it must be a local one. To favor one against the other is to isolate ourselves from community.

During our Global Leadership Symposium on Transformation through Collaboration at our Athens campus, Ambassador Ioseb Nanobashivili of Georgia expressed appreciation that international universities “feed us ideas to help us solve global problems." We should take those words to heart. Human connections – which make us feel the impact of problems, and ignite the conversations that produce solutions – guide us forward through moments like this.

Our focus on global citizenship--on developing a global mindset--should open us to be changed by the world at the same time we become world changers. Once we accept that we are all connected, we can then work together for a solution, with a belief that tolerance and understanding can prevail over violence and hatred.

As Sandy Shugart said, “We can do this together… We’ll be forever changed by this. But let’s make sure the change we experience is one we want to. That is to become enlarged and not diminished, to become gracious and not judgmental, to let love rule, and not hate.”

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