At UML, Mourning Those Lost While Searching for Ways to End the Violence
By Marie Donovan
LOWELL -- One by one, name by name, the lights went out.
Charlotte Bacon, 6.
Chase Kowalski, 7.
Jessica Rekos, 6.
Benjamin Wheeler, 6.
Grace McDonnell, 7.
Dawn Hochsprung, 47, principal.
Anne Marie Murphy, 52, teacher.
By the end, all 26 of the electric candles were turned off, and under each a card was placed bearing the name of one of the 20 children and six adults shot to death in the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
For the few dozen UMass Lowell students and faculty members gathered at a vigil Thursday night, it was a time to honor the victims, and to reflect on what might be done to prevent future tragedies.
"The vigil was very touching, very interesting ... seeing the candles, so many. It really put it into perspective what a huge event it was," said Tiana Peña-Colon, 21, a junior from Lawrence majoring in psychology and criminal justice. "I made a shirt (for the event) and put the names of the people on the back and was just running out of room."
The vigil, held at UMass Lowell's 9/11 Memorial, followed a forum at UMass Lowell's Fox Commons to discuss how society might act to stop the bloodshed.
"Violence, people hurting other people, takes on its deadliest form when guns are used," Criminal Justice Professor Cathy Levey said during the panel discussion.
Darnell Austin, a sophomore marketing major, said he believes performing simple acts of kindness could go a long way toward helping build a positive environment.
"I feel like it's something someone can do every day, to make your community a safer place and to promote stopping gun violence," he said.
Panelist James Nehring, a professor in the Graduate School of Education who served as event moderator, said schools could make changes like stressing student portfolios over grades, having students work in cooperative groups to serve the community and cutting back on the "current testing mania" to help alleviate student alienation.
Professor Paula Rayman, director of UMass Lowell's Peace and Conflict Studies program, said that when gun violence plagues minority neighborhoods, like Dorchester, the victims often don't benefit from the kind of publicity that can spur a call to action.
"We are a large community here at UMass Lowell, we're very diverse," Rayman said. "We have a special responsibility as educators to do the research and listen to each other when we have different opinions about various issues."
Trudy Umstead, a member of a student drama troupe that recently staged a play based on the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., said she believes school shooters are bred less by violent movies and video games than by being made to feel like outcasts.
"I feel the educational system is the main cause," Umstead said.
Levey, who worked in the Connecticut prison system for more than 22 years before joining the university faculty, said as the national debate over gun control continues, she hopes people will consider the scientific evidence when crafting solutions.
"Gun violence is an emotionally charged and opinion-laden topic," Levey said, noting that preliminary data appears to suggest that states with permissive gun laws have more fatalities, but that there is "no conclusive data" that a complete ban on guns by anyone other than military or public-safety personnel would make the nation's streets and campuses safer.
Data-driven solutions have cut automobile fatalities by 80 percent and medical research establishing a tobacco and cancer link has led to successful prevention programs, Levey said, adding that efforts to deter gun violence would benefit from the same approach.
Numerous speakers said that while media attention has highlighted the issue of preventing emotionally disturbed people from getting guns, the vast majority of violent crimes are committed by those who aren't labeled with any illness, including domestic abusers, substance abusers and terrorists.
Freshman Sophia Dearaujo said she felt the gun violence issue could use a key spokesperson, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was for racial equality, to keep attention on the need for change.
Another student, Danielle Brown, advocated for greater acceptance of people with different gender identities, while Anne Mulvey, professor emerita of Community Social Psychology at UMass Lowell, asked those gathered to picture what the campus community would look like when violence against women and girls no longer exists, noting that today, "women feel less safe walking alone at night than men."
And horrific acts like Sandy Hook make everyone feel less safe and secure.
Peña-Colon, a resident adviser at Sheehy Hall on South Campus, said she watched news accounts of the Sandy Hook tragedy with fellow dorm leaders at the end of last semester.
"A bunch of us just started crying," she said. "It was kids. ... You would never expect someone to harm a child. That kind of hit home for us."