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Communications and Marketing

President Schutt comments on recent events in Pittsburgh, other locations

After a recent cluster of tragedies, President Schutt sent the following email to students, faculty, and staff on Tuesday, October 30:

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

The news in recent days has been very painful. Eleven Jewish worshipers were murdered at a synagogue in a Pittsburgh neighborhood that I know well. Pipe bombs were sent to a dozen or more political figures across the nation. Two African-American residents of Louisville were shot dead in a supermarket. The brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has remained in the headlines. And 43 people were shot, five fatally, over the weekend in Chicago.

As different from each other as these incidents may seem, they share a common cause. Hatred is responsible for all of them.

The objects of hatred are many, as are its guises. They include the Pittsburgh shooter’s virulent anti-semitism, the pipe bomber’s hostility toward Democratic officials, the Louisville gunman’s racism, the Saudi contempt for regime critics, the loathing of Chicago gangs for each other, and a long list of other forms and targets.

Various explanations—religious, political, sociological, economic—may be offered for the hatred animating the recent, feverish violence. At bottom, though, hatred is an acquisition. It is something people learn.

In an old episode of The West Wing, the former television show, President Bartlett had to address a group of teachers after a bombing on a university campus. Unable to offer a reason for the carnage, he said this about the bombers: “All I know for certain is they weren’t born wanting to do this.”

Education can certainly be corrupted, and, when it is, it can teach people to hate. When it is authentic, unbiased, and pursues the truth, however, education offers protection against hatred and an antidote to it.

If there was a time to educate the Pittsburgh killer out of his abhorrent anti-semitism, that time was probably years ago. Tragically, our society allowed his “education” to proceed along a different path, and his victims at the Tree of Life Synagogue are the unspeakably sad result.

As we look to the future, different results remain possible. To offer one hopeful example, I heard a radio segment on Saturday, the day of the Pittsburgh shootings, about residents of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, both Republicans and Democrats, who have begun to meet to bridge their political differences. As one explained, “I am very convinced … it will enrich all of us if we can listen to each other.”

She was not being a Pollyanna. Talking will not resolve all conflicts, and education is not easy.  But the Gettysburg story is what the Lake Forest College Mission Statement means when it “affirms that education ennobles the individual.” It is what explains our commitments to prepare students “to become responsible citizens of the global community,” and to “enable students, faculty, trustees, and administrators to solve problems in a civil manner, collectively.”

I urge us all to renew our work in this direction. For students, in particular, I plan to schedule small-group dinners so we can talk about this together. I hope you will join me.

Stephen D. Schutt
President