OMSA, The Well open dialogue on societal violence, coping

Hannah Eason

Contributing Writer

The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and The Wellness Resource Center met with students in the University Student Commons Nov. 20 to discuss the role of violence in the U.S., primarily due to recent mass shootings.

Panelists, including OMSA Director Greta Franklin and The Well’s Director of Health Education and Violence Prevention Kaylin Tingle, led the discussion to help students cope with the increase in violence. The forum included tips for coping with specific types of violent events.

“It’s almost overwhelming to respond to each individual act of violence,” Tingle said. “[OMSA and the Well] are just trying to figure out how to offer space for our students to process all of the things that are coming up and the individual things that are impacting or triggering them based on their own experiences and identities.”

The panel’s title “What’s Going On?” was derived from the Marvin Gaye song of the same title — which was a 1971 response to the struggles of the civil rights movement, Vietnam War protests and a divided America. This parallels the conflicts of today’s political landscape.

“History is repeating itself,” Franklin said, comparing the 2015 Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina to the 1963 murder of four young girls in a Birmingham, Alabama, church — both of which were white supremacist hate crimes against African-Americans.

“[This is a] space where people think they’re safe,” Franklin said. “Where hate shouldn’t walk through the door.”

The impact of the discussion was reflected in the audience members, one of whom lost a relative in the Charleston massacre and was in the area at the time it took place. He declined to comment further on the experience.

Tied into the discussion were the effects of social media “echo chambers” — cohorts of social networks in which similar beliefs are repeated and reinforced. Consuming news from impartial sources, such as C-SPAN or Associated Press, was recommended in order to combat echo chambers and address implicit bias.

The panelists reiterated that it is hard for people to process these events because of how how common they are.

“We can’t even respond to one thing before the next thing happens,” Tingle said.

The 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting — which killed 49 people, who were mostly Hispanic and members of the LGBTQIA community — was followed just weeks later by the police shootings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, who were both unarmed black men. The shootings fueled the Black Lives Matter movement and, conversely, Blue Lives Matter counter protests.

Sophomore Payton Van Winkle said it feels like attitudes have changed toward violence against minority groups.

“As a gay woman, I was excited about dating apps and emerging into adulthood,” Van Winkle said about her 18th birthday, which came around the same time as the Pulse massacre. “It woke me up. Even in Miami you’re not safe, even in a gay club you’re not safe. There’s no way to run away from it.”

Tingle said another layer of dealing with violence is how it persists in news reports and social media.

“While this type of violence has been happening since the beginning of our country, it wasn’t necessarily in our faces,” Tingle said. “[Now], you’re just scrolling through your news feed and looking at puppy videos, when [a] video starts playing that shows you one of these instances [of violence].”

Panelists also analyzed the thin line between free speech, harm speech and hate speech.

“Where do you draw the line?” Franklin said. “At what point does the harm outweigh the constitutional right to free speech?”

The forum included many tips for self-care and proactivity — namely voting, protesting and speaking with people who have opposing views. That can help people “keep the dialogue open,” Franklin said, and recognize their biases. Spending time away from social media and violent videos is another way to cope.

The Well offers weekly self-care activities such as meditations during “Mindful Mondays” and “Rams in Recovery” organizes support groups for people experiencing substance abuse as a result of coping with violence.

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