Saturday’s horrific massacre of 11 innocent men and women in Pittsburgh, as they worshipped together, no doubt shocks each and every one of us. It should. The 11 souls whose lives were extinguished were targeted solely because of the god they worship. These killings follow on the heels of the murders of two African American shoppers at a grocery store in Kentucky last Wednesday and the attempted delivery of pipe bombs to a number of people who were selected apparently because of their political beliefs.
The events of last week did not come out of thin air. To say that our nation and our politics are polarized trivializes the problem. Civility and reasoned discourse seem to have given way to hate and the politics of distrust and division. Each day, we are assaulted by racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, misogyny, nativism, and homophobia, sometimes from the very people who have been elected to lead us.
In our bubble in Eugene and on the campus at the University of Oregon, we are not immune to hate. Last year the number of bias-related crimes and incidents reported to the city nearly doubled over the prior year. On campus, we have seen fliers produced by white supremacist groups spewing the rhetoric of hate. And, sometimes in class, we have experienced difficult moments where empathy has given way to antipathy.
I want to express my solidarity with all of the groups on our campus who have been the victims of hate and all who share in my outrage at the horrible events of the last week and the current state of affairs in our country. But, there are two other important messages I would like to convey. First, we are part of an academic community, one dedicated to rationality over emotion. It is here, at the University of Oregon, where each and every one of us has the opportunity to explore our differences, gain understanding of each other’s perspectives, and, with that understanding, hopefully banish demonization and replace hate with empathy and respect. Please expand your usual group of friends and engage in those conversations in the classroom, over dinner, and in the residence halls. And seek out your advisors and professors, and other resources on campus if you need someone to speak with, or to find avenues to become more involved.
Secondly, please take seriously your opportunity to vote. As November 6 approaches, vote for candidates who model the behavior we want in our leaders. Regardless of party, vote for leaders who eschew hatred and bigotry. Vote for candidates who provide solutions to our problems and not just those who articulate our frustrations. And whatever the results of the election, get involved and engaged—embrace our shared democratic values. And as you engage and seek to fix some of the problems my generation has caused, model the type of civility and empathy that is so absent today.
Take care of yourselves and treat each other with respect. Thank you.
Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law