This past year, full of horrific events like the Aurora shooting (July 2012), the Sandy Hook shooting (December 2012), the Boston Marathon bombings (April 2013) and the DC shootings (September 2013) has shown us how communities come together after times of tragedy to start the healing process and ensure remembrance. In the midst of tragedy, we have seen our community members look out for each other, care for each other, and mourn together. Emerson College President Lee Pelton has taken that community unity one step further by encouraging action and dialogue about the issues that cause violence, making Emerson the leader in academic discussion on gun violence and urging his fellow college presidents across the country to follow suit.
After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Obama addressed the nation about the need for action to curtail gun violence, saying, “I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens—from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators—in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.” Struck by Obama’s words, President Pelton sent a letter to President Obama in which he pledged “to do what we do best in our academic communities: engage thought leaders, faculty, students, staff, trustees and friends in meaningful debate and dialogue, which, in turn, might lead to positive action.” This marked the beginning of collegiate involvement in the discussion on gun control.
The simple act of opening the floor for discussions on this topic has proved to be important and impactful. At Emerson, the launch of the College Presidents’ Gun Violence Resource Center and a series of panels throughout the Spring 2013 semester called “Made in America: Our Gun Violence Culture,” provided the community with a common space to address the different facets of the controversy surrounding firearms violence.
The first of the panels was a moderated debate entitled “Whose right is it anyway?” that allowed students, academics, community leaders and policy-makers to have their opinions heard on gun control and gun control advocacy. The second discussion, “Who’s to Blame? Gun Violence in Media and Electronic Games,” had panelists discussing the graphic imagery in the media that children consume and whether it would possess a long-term effect on a child’s psyche or influence his or her actions. The third focused on the Second Amendment and what rights it does and does not protect: “The Second Amendment: What is it? What is it Not?” The final discussion focused on “The Cultural, Social, and Economic Underpinnings of American Violence,” centered on an examination of how the surrounding communities affect the upbringing of children, the impact of the legal system on juvenile offenders, and programs and policies that change the conditions of certain situations and provide opportunities to those in need.