Orlando 49: A Time for Reflection and Remembrance

prepared remarks  

June 29, 2016  -  A Time for Reflection and Remembrance for the Orlando 49 - Hollings Program Room 

Good day to everyone. We have come together this afternoon to continue to heal and reflect more deeply now that has been 17 days since we woke to such tragic news. We bring our Carolina spirit...and that includes learning and understanding, the search for truth, plus compassion and love for others. We bring that spirit to this gathering and to our ongoing commitments. 

Our hearts were broken on June 12 when Orlando and the world lost 49 members of the LGBTQ community to a violent hate crime at The Pulse.  The Pulse was a fun spot in a fun town. A place where hate was not even a whisper in anyone's mind. That night was no different, young people had gathered in this fun place to dance, to talk, to eat, and to drink.  But then, a hate crime was committed. A hate crime and a terrorist crime.  

Ultimately, there is no explanation or rationale for hate.  Hate is not a value that, when directed at fellow human beings, we can ever accept. 

And surely it was no coincidence that the hate was unleashed during LGBTQ Pride Month—designed to steal away this time of joyful celebration and affirmation.  Affirmation for which the movement has fought hard to win and experience for so long. An affirmation that the hater must have seen coming, inevitably, against the will, of a still powerful minority supporting the status quo. But they were losing. And he hated that. But we cannot let hate and intolerance happen, not ever again. We cannot slide backwards ever again. Might we, all together say, "Not ever again!" 

Patricia and I spent the day that Sunday trying to understand why gay men and women, most Latino and Latina, enjoying a night out, had become the target of this hate. Ultimately, there is no explanation or rationale for hate.  Hate is not a value that, when directed at fellow human beings, we can ever accept. 

There is, however, so much hatred being voiced within our nation today. We need to change the tenor of our national discourse—the tenor of our somehow new-found belligerence. At USC, we have some solid experience in ushering in peace, civility, acceptance and respect. Our Carolinian Creed, created 25 years ago, was specifically designed to encourage civilized behavior—to include civility and inclusiveness on this campus at a time when we badly need it. And we still need it today.  We must not merely accept the values of the Creed.  We must seek them, want them, and inject them into our USC DNA. Overall, the Creed has experienced a good measure of success, but there is still much to do.  The talk is good—the walk is better.  

I want us to see our community as a rainbow...a big, bright, multicolored rainbow.  Not only to be seen on a day of remembrance, or following a cloudy, stormy day like June 12, but a rainbow to be seen every single day. Can you not see that rainbow with me on a sunny South Carolina summer day on the Horseshoe? Students, faculty and staff of different stripes, different tongues, different gender preferences, different political affiliations or philosophies and on and on. Don't we want to see on the Horseshoe a Muslim student from Oman in her Hijab, a preppie student in his Vineyard Vine tie, a sorority member in a dress, a proud lesbian or gay student in a "Be yourself" tee-shirt, a young student questioning his or her own sexual identity who looks just like you and me. Don't we want to see that every day?  I do. That's the rainbow I want to see...every single day. 

Together, we will practice and perfect our concern and acceptance for every single member of our community.

And when we encounter a member of our community in need, in trouble, in despair, in pain, anxious and suffering, we must reach out. Not in judgement or reluctantly because it might be uncomfortable, but with arms outstretched, hearts warm and minds open.  To look at him or her, not in judgement, and say, "Who are you?" and "What do you need from this university?"  

As a community, when we encounter intolerance and bigotry, I ask you please to join me in saying, "Not ever again!" 

Civility and inclusiveness are always a work in progress. With this in mind, we've spent the past year listening to our students—in forums, during one-on-one interactions, through counseling and more. I have been deeply moved by your willingness to openly share your concerns, express your frustrations and outline your expectations. We have heard you. 

Provost Gabel and Dr. John Dozier, our chief diversity officer, are helping our Board of Trustees and me incorporate diversity and inclusion as part of our measurable campus progress. We are also adding one more pathway, Social Justice, for those who wish to graduate with Leadership Distinction honors.  

To paraphrase John Donne, the English poet and cleric: 

"No person is an island 

Entire of itself 

We are all a piece of the university

A part of the main..." 

We will continue to stand in solemn solidarity with all who mourn the Orlando 49.  But also know, that our prayers are being backed up by concrete actions. Together, we will practice and perfect our concern and acceptance for every single member of our community. We will remember Orlando and these 49 precious lives with love and compassion and we will say, "Not ever again."