AND Remember the Power of Community

June 8th, 2014

On a trip to Santa Barbara last week, shortly after the shooting at Isla Vista, I was again struck by the power of and to reframe our experience and open new possibilities. The UCSB campus community, still deeply reeling from the shootings, was quieter than I have experienced on other visits. Kind smiles and welcoming hugs continued to be present among the staff that I know well. One group sponsored a guacamole tasting contest at 9 in the morning and elicited only smiles, fun conversation, and yummy connections. They added light and lightness that others gladly fed.

What struck me was a leader’s reflection on, and perhaps dismay about, the campus being labelled the most recent school shooting victim or tragedy. It is an identity that can bring with it some stigma and fears about choosing to attend the school or otherwise live off campus in the community of Isla Vista. (Isla Vista, I learned, is the most densely populated community west of the Mississippi River. AND it is a highly transient community, being overwhelming populated by students who sublet or leave apartments open in the summer. Perhaps fodder for reflection on the relationship between healthy communities and diversity, which this one lacks in terms of age groups and occupation, if you consider being a student an occupation.)

At any rate, the tendency to simply label a place because of a shooting rampage is a placeholder for many to track issues of guns in society, mental health, and more. Such labeling oversimplifies and often masks what is also true about the place and people who share that place.

While UCSB is touched by the killing and wounding of students, it is also a community united in compassion. In the moments following the shooting, individual leaders learned of the situation and immediately jumped into action. Some helped those who were shot. Others set up space for students to feel safe, took their places on the hotline to field calls and comfort worried parents, brought food to a comforting and safe gathering location, and opened lines of communication to a panicked community. AND the list goes on.

They simply arrived and did what they knew to do. AND by responding as they did, the community of leaders–students, staff, faculty, administrators–connected in community and defined themselves more by their response to the shootings than just the shootings themselves. In times of natural and other disaster, we see the beauty of humanity rush in. No fussing about who is in charge, only open arms to comfort, open hearts to help heal.

Rather than living in fear, terror, and lockdown, what leaders on the UCSB campus taught is the importance of community. At the impromptu memorial service held in the stadium, twenty thousand gathered to remember those lost, pray for all affected, comfort one another, and heal wounds deeply felt in the community. They came together as one community.

It’s amazing what we can heal when we respond to whatever happens in life with love, compassion, and healing AND remember to build and nurture healthy communities

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