Grappling with the Recent Acts of Violence

Monday, July 18, 2016
by Feridun Hamdullahpur

Baton Rouge. Ankara. Nice. Paris. And that's just the last couple weeks.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the recent spate of horrific violence that's dominated your news feeds and mine. And I want to talk specifically to students about it.

UWaterloo will normally reserve comment for incidents with some specific connection to Waterloo. But the fact is, the whole world is grappling with the cause and consequence of the acts of violence we've seen in recent weeks. That's exactly what you should be doing, as students: you should be asking yourselves where this violence comes from, and what small steps you can take in your own lives to make the world a more peaceful and just place. So should I - so should everyone, for that matter.

The physical, social, and cultural violence going on in North America and around the world is a fact of our lives. And it's a dimension of the world you students are inheriting. My challenge to our students, this month in which the veil has been pulled away from so much violence and anger in the world, is to not give in to the chaos, or turn away from it.

Don't give in to the hatreds that the atrocities you've witnessed are designed to spark. And don't give in to the complexity at the heart of social and civic issues that have erupted into episodes of violence, whether across the world or across the border. Don't cease to struggle with these issues intellectually, morally, and emotionally.

When I walk through campus this summer, I want to hear you discussing and debating these issues thoroughly and vigorously. I want to hear you talking about how you, your communities, and Canada can play constructive roles in healing the world's wounds and bridging the social and economic gaps into which too many lives around the world are falling.

You're university students only for a brief moment - this is your opportunity to think, engage, and develop into the kind of citizens and adults you're going to be for the rest of your lives. Don't shy away from the difficult elements of the world you're inheriting: look directly into them, seek to understand them, and after you graduate, do your alma mater justice by building lives of meaning and purpose to help address them.

I talked to a lot of the recent graduating class of new Waterloo alumni this June - as many as I could say hello to before, during, and after convocation. Their stories and interests and positive ambitions inspire me more than acts of violence could ever dishearten me.

Even in a month like this, it's not even close.‎