University News

Community gathers to heal, reflect together

Chaplains’ office hosts event featuring readings, performances in light of tragic summer events

By
senior staff writer
Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Janet Cooper Nelson, chaplain of the University and director of the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life, read an excerpt at a community gathering to create a moment to reflect, show solidarity and support people impacted by tragic events this summer.

After a potentially stressful summer including national and global tragedies, the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life hosted a gathering yesterday evening on the Main Green featuring several administrators and students as well as members of the faculty and staff. The event was held on Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest Muslim holidays, and was “meant to foster goodwill and acknowledge sorrow,” said Janet Cooper Nelson, chaplain of the University and director of the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life.

Members of the Brown community lined up in front of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center and read aloud from selected pieces or authors that have inspired them.

“Over the course of the summer, all of us felt pretty beaten down. Every week there was a new tragedy,” said Provost Richard Locke P’17. “People were murdered because of the color of their skin, their faith, gender or uniform they were wearing,” he said, adding that, “as I make sense of the world around me, I turn to books.” Locke read an excerpt from, “Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice,” written by Martha Nussbaum, currently a professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago and a former member of the Brown faculty.

President Christina Paxson P’19 paid homage to C.D. Wright, former professor of literary arts, who passed away in January 2016, reading aloud an excerpt from Wright’s book, “One With Others.”

Cooper Nelson praised Toni Morrison’s perseverance and willingness to create and write despite living in a broken system. “The world needs a great deal from us,” Cooper Nelson said to the audience. She read aloud a poem titled “Separation” by W.S. Merwin.

The speakers individually chose a diverse selection of excerpts. Eric Estes, vice president for campus life and student services, read a poem by Kazim Ali, chair of the creative writing department at Oberlin College. Adnan Adrian Wood-Smith, associate chaplain at the University, read aloud from chapter 103 of the Qur’an, once in English and once in Arabic.

Interwoven with the excerpts read aloud from members of the School of Engineering, Counseling and Psychological Services, undergraduate students and more were student performances. Kenyon Alexander ’18 played “Sonata in G minor” by J.S. Bach, The Jabberwocks, an on-campus a cappella group, performed “Ave Maria,” and Harmonizing Grace, an on-campus gospel choir, performed as well.

“It feels good that Brown is recognizing events happening outside of the Brown community,” said Verida Leandre GS, who performed with Harmonizing Grace. “I appreciated the different perspectives. This is a way we can grieve together,” she said, adding that “singing and music are good tools for dealing with all emotions, especially grief.”

No speaker addressed any specific tragedy or event that has occurred recently, and Cooper Nelson refrained from announcing trigger warnings at the event. She thought the titles could give audience members an idea of what was to come, she told The Herald.

“I don’t want to hurt people, but if we really think something could endanger someone’s well being, I want to do much more than put a warning on at the beginning,” Cooper Nelson said, adding that she hopes the on-campus resources listed at the back of the event flyer, like CAPS and the Brown Center for Students of Color, would be helpful to those hurting. The resources available to the Brown community could prove helpful for a host of concerns that may not be common trigger warnings but still cause students distress, such as homesickness, she said.

“We don’t want to presume life is hard, but sometimes when everything is chipper and positive it can be difficult if you have just lost someone or if there is something worrying you,” she said.

On trigger warnings, Cooper Nelson praises the approach of Gregory Elliott, professor of sociology. “Elliot does a very good job in his courses on interpersonal violence. Right on the syllabus it says that this is not a topic people can hold at arm’s length, so I want to let you know that there’s the counseling office, the chaplain’s office, etc. That feels to me like real concern.”

Liza Cariaga-Lo, vice president for academic development and diversity and inclusion, felt the event aimed to create “a moment to pause and reflect and stand in solidarity and support of all the people who have suffered this summer and are still in pain.” Cariaga-Lo said she appreciated the support from the President and Chaplain’s offices, as well as Cooper Nelson’s initiative of pitching the idea for the event and reaching out for volunteers during summer, she said.

“When I need to reground myself personally, beauty helps me. We wanted to gather a lot of beautiful things together for the whole community,” Cooper Nelson said.

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