Monday, November 28, 2016

What Happens When It's YOUR Campus?

Orton Hall on the campus of The Ohio State University

I had made up my mind right after prayers this morning. I was going to write about the Mother of the Eucharist. But I got a text from the Campus Public Safety Department at about 10 AM telling me there was an active shooter on my campus.

My blood froze.  I was suddenly very afraid even though I was not on campus today. I was afraid for all my friends and colleagues on campus, the students, the people who go through the campus area each day... this was my community!

I grew up so close to campus that I could hear the Horseshoe explode with sound every time the Buckeyes made a Touchdown or a good play. I could hear The Band (and, yes, they are The Best Damn Band In The Land) practice as I raked leaves in the Fall. I spent all the time I could "on campus" as a teenager, competing in music contests, attending recruiting events, hanging out in the cool shops and restaurants all along High Street. And now, I work here.

The Ohio State University is my campus.

When you work in higher ed, there is always a little part of your brain that is prepared for a threat. I used to worry about it at Ohio Dominican. I had a plan for defense in both of the offices where I worked. But I worried about it much more at Ohio State - bigger campus, bigger population, more visible, more opportunity. I just never really thought it would actually happen in Columbus.

I can't get into too many specifics here regarding what has happened and how it all rolled out. Facts are still being confirmed in the case. I do want to unpack it, though, because it's so surreal. Things like this don't happen in Columbus, Ohio. Despite the growing population, this remains an affable and charming little city. It's really a small town that got a bit too big for its britches.

My husband and I can both trace our family history in this area all the way back to the mid-1800s (mine can actually be traced back to 1802.) When we married, we sent out 500 invitations --not because we thought we were so important, but because our parents and grandparents had friends who still wanted to be there. We joked that the half of the city that I was not related to, he was. Truly, until I was in my mid-30s I could not walk down the street in Downtown Columbus and not see someone I knew, greeting them with a wave and a smile.

And then there's the University. Columbus is home to 52 higher ed institutions, second only to the Boston area in the United States, but only one is "The Campus" and that's Ohio State. The North end of our city revolves around it. Grad students, professors, and staff live in the neighborhoods that touch campus, like my native neighborhood of Clintonville. People come from all over the world to attend and work at Ohio State. This makes our campus community a diverse population of people hungry for knowledge and anxious to make their mark with world-class research. Regardless of professional differences and ambitions that come into play anywhere you go, the campus community is also friendly and warm. The natives (like me) welcome them warmly and offer any help we can to make them feel at home. They return the favor by introducing us to their rich cultural heritage and helping us to see things through a lens that is not German/Irish-American and Midwestern.

Hospitality, then, is a specific gift of my hometown. There is a genuineness in the smile and the "How are you?" of a Columbus native. They actually aren't looking for the answer, "Fine." but really want to know how you are.

They listen. They make up their own minds, but they listen to other opinions. It is said that when the Suffragettes came through Ohio campaigning for women's votes, the men listened to them so carefully and politely that they thought that they'd pass the legislation for sure. They didn't, but they didn't throw rotten fruit at them either.

They defend your right to be "wrong". I have been at demonstrations and protests were the opposing sides went out for coffee after the protest.

So how did this happen here? I have no answers other than to say that this is a fallen world and we are a fallen, broken people who needs the healing mercy of Jesus Christ.

I am so sad for my city, for my campus, and for my community. My heart is breaking into a thousand pieces over this. There will be a guarded calm that settles over us, I imagine. Right now, it's just shock and sadness. Moving forward, there will be a twinge of mistrust, an uncertainty, a lack of confidence in the goodness of humanity. The friendly nature of our community has been wounded. These are things that I have already seen beginning to sprout in the garden of my hometown in this past couple of months.

This isn't new, but this act will confirm it. I want these weeds uprooted not watered.

(c) 2016 Katie O'Keefe. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Credit: By Nheyob (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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