One of Culver’s greatest strengths lies in its diversity. With students from 24 countries and 37 states, there is a diversity of beliefs, diversity of thoughts, and diversity of opinions.
Yet, as CGA Spiritual Life Chair Mia Tiwana ’19 (Dhahran, Saudi Arabia) said, “It only takes a couple of notes of the Culver Song for everyone to embrace their neighbors, arms locked, singing with pride, love and joy.” It was in that vein the Spiritual Life Department conducted a special Community Reflection at the Memorial Chapel Thursday evening.
The short 30-minute session was designed to give students an opportunity to reflect on the recent tragedies, especially the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh that touched the lives of some students.
“There is so much information coming at us on a daily basis, that it can be hard to process, hard to assimilate . . . and at times we even may find ourselves desensitized to it all,” Rev. Dr. Sam Boys said at the start of the gathering. By setting aside a brief period of time to reflect on these events, it also gives students the opportunity “to look at our Culver values and virtues as guiding principles to help us navigate our way during these difficult times.”
There have been 307 mass shootings in 2018, Boys said. Gathering as a community to reflect on the most recent shootings in Kentucky, Florida, Pennsylvania, and California is “part of our character education. Because we are a mission-driven community, it is essential that we stay connected to our mission – that we stay connected to one another.”
The purpose of the gathering was two-fold, he explained. First, “to acknowledge the pain and suffering of our fellow human beings who are living in the midst of violence and to grieve for these tragedies.” The second is to “move toward healing by affirming our mission in service to others.
“So tonight we make a move from hurt to hope.”
Ryan Knight ’20 (Coronado, Calif.), the CGA interfaith prefect, told those gathered that differences are everywhere and part of our everyday lives. And “how we approach differences is entirely up to us.”
Students may feel the recent shootings – especially the one in Pittsburgh – are “extreme acts of violence” that are not part of their world. That it is a “flicker of extremism and things will go back to normal. But that is not the case.
“Extremism against differences is built up over time,” she said. “A seed of hatred, stemming from the fear of differences, is planted and it grows and grows until, for example, a Pittsburgh synagogue is violently attacked.”
But the failure to accept differences does not just belong to a few extremists, Knight added. “We are all challenged by differences.” By working together and challenging “our own struggle and the struggles of others who may appear different from us,” everyone finds unity in diversity.
But it will take practice, she said. “We can speak respectfully with others. We can speak respectfully about others. We can challenge those who intentionally disrespect others. If we do not, we fracture our community.”
Unity in diversity takes commitment and that commitment must be lived daily. Unity in diversity should be held sacred and not taken for granted. And, it is urgent, Knight added. “We cannot afford to sit back and allow voices of intolerance to define our society and define our future.”
Head of Schools Jim Power told the students the good news was that it was not their responsibility to immediately fix the world, but that they “weren’t off the hook” entirely. They have a job to do “on this patch of land,” and it involved the hard part of servant leadership – putting others ahead of yourself. He added everyone should commit to making a difference and “let’s do this together.”
Gracie Stanish ’20 read a poem about the Tree of Life tragedy written by her great-uncle, Ronald Covato. “I am from Pittsburgh and this tragedy will be remembered,” she said. “We are stronger than hate.”
Students also lit candles to remember and honor all victims of discrimination and violence.
Boys told the audience that an ethics class discussion about all the recent tragedies led to the development of “empathy cards,” which students can fill out. The cards will be given to the Tree of Life congregation when the Pittsburgh area students go home for Thanksgiving break. More than 500 cards have been filled out to date.