The mass shooting in Orlando this week has brought pain to many UCF students, faculty and staff. I have always found that in struggling to understand something outside my full experience that it helps to turn to friends who can give me a different perspective. So, I reached out to Jim Gilkeson. Jim is the head of our Integrated Business program, a finance professor, and a gay man who has made Orlando his home for many years. What follows is from him. Thanks Jim.
I am struggling to comprehend the shootings at Pulse Night Club early Sunday morning. You see, I live about 8 blocks from the club and I remember wondering why there were so many helicopters flying overhead when I walked my dog that morning. And wondering why there was a police car sitting a block and a half down the street from my house with its lights flashing.
Then I got on my computer and saw the first Facebook post from a friend. And started reading news stories. Checking with friends to make sure they were okay. Receiving texts and emails – from family, from friends, from a high school classmate I hadn’t seen in 15 years – all asking if I was okay. The news kept getting worse.
But it isn’t just about living in the neighborhood of this tragedy. Or about a club I drive by all the time. It’s about being a gay man who’s been to that club. It’s about remembering that I took a friend to see a show at Parliament House (another gay club in town) just last weekend for his birthday: it never occurred to me that going to PH was risky. It’s about being the father of an 18- year-old who could have been at Pulse or at some other club with his Latina girlfriend.
It’s about UCF students, including at least one in our College of Business Administration, Juan Ramon Guerrero, who won’t be coming back to us. It’s about our young alums whose lives were cut short or are forever changed by injury and the impact of being in the middle of that horrendous event. It’s about the broader community who have lost significant others, friends, coworkers and family members who no longer feel safe in their own homes or neighborhoods.
The analysis of the Pulse shootings has started. We know that homophobia played a part. The shooter’s religious beliefs and messages from his family members had an impact. There are suggestions mental illness was involved. Most of the victims were Hispanic, perhaps that was an issue. It was certainly easy enough for the shooter to buy the weapons that left 49 dead and 53 injured. Such a mix of things. So easy to start arguing about what piece is more important than what other piece.
I’m sad. I’m angry. I feel helpless. I’m a little bit scared. I suspect I’m not alone in any of these feelings.
Anti-Muslim rhetoric won’t help. My Muslim friends in Orlando and elsewhere are outraged by this – and justifiably scared of potential “backlash.” And the shooters at Sandy Hook Elementary, and the movie theater in Aurora, CO, and the African-American church in Charleston weren’t Muslims. Anti-immigrant rhetoric isn’t helpful either – the shooter wasn’t an immigrant and Central Florida and UCF are home to thousands and thousands of immigrants making incredible contributions to our community and our institution.
So what can we do?
First of all, we can be there. For the victims and their loved ones. For one another. Ask people if they’re okay. Let them talk their feelings out. Offer support. Let them know that resources are available, counseling through CAPS or the employee assistance program for students and employees of UCF and community-based support through a number of organizations downtown. Don’t downplay the impact this event will have on others, or on yourself.
Show support for the community. The mile-long lines to donate blood – and folks passing out food, water and umbrellas – represented an amazing and almost immediate outpouring of support from the wonderful, diverse community that is Orlando. As did the thousands who attended the vigil at the Dr. Phillips Center on Monday night. And the One Pulse Vigil at UCF on Tuesday night. And the GoFundMe campaign(https://www.gofundme.com/pulsevictimsfund) to support victims and their families that has raised over $3 million at this point, the largest campaign by far in the site’s history. Even this very dark cloud has many bright silver linings.
As we try to digest this event – try somehow to make sense from senseless violence – my true hope is each of us can each figure out something tangible, something proactive we can do to prevent anything like this from happening again, in our community or in any other.
For students who are struggling to cope with this horrific event, CAPS counselors will be in the student union all week. While CAPS is only for students, victim services is available to faculty and staff as well as students. UCF Faculty and Staff can also reach out for counseling through our Employee Assistance Program – Dean Jarley