School of Nursing

August 5, 2019

We All Must Play a Role

Insights on the latest mass shootings from me and Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Butch de Castro.

We must all play a role.

The tragic mass shootings in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton shake us yet again, but sadly perhaps, no longer shock us. As with Charleston, Orlando, Pittsburgh, Sandy Hook, and elsewhere, more families, friends, and communities must now bear the burden and consequence of gun violence. They, too, must now share profound trauma, grief, and loss.

And, what comes next? What can be done? We’ve seen it enough times to know how this story goes. After all these incidents across our nation, sending “thoughts and prayers” falls short of what needs to be done. We can do more. We must all play a role.

In times like this, the words of former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher ring loud once again. He had said in the early 1990’s about the rising occurrence of violence, “If it’s not a public health problem, why are all those people dying from it?” Over 25 years later, we see violence taking form in one mass shooting after another resulting in more and more people suffering undeserved death and disabling injury. This is no longer a public health problem; this is a public health crisis.

There is certainly a tendency during moments of crisis to feel helpless because the problem is so large, complex, or happens somewhere far away. But, we do not have to be helpless. We can act and do our part.

We must play a role. From advocacy demands for gun policy that controls access, monitors flow, and reflects current firearm types and technology, to improving access and delivery of much needed mental health services. We must each do our part to influence societal and political change in order to prevent more death and injury, as well as the sorrow and pain that they leave behind.

More than this, though, we cannot ignore what has become increasingly evident. The boldness of hate continues to emerge; cultivated by overt rhetoric and tacit endorsement from positions of power in government and society, setting its sights to target and cause harm to marginalized “others.”

We must help this nation rise above its worst so we can all be our best. As one of the leading schools of nursing, we have an opportunity to influence by rejecting hate speech, bigotry, prejudice, bullying, personal aggressions, and any actions that divide. We must take this to heart with all of the people and spaces we are responsible to and influence both personally and professionally, especially with the communities we serve, the students we teach, and each other as staff and faculty here in our UW School of Nursing.

During this summer season, it’s fitting to recall Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones’ “Gardener’s Tale” article. This allegory illustrates levels of racism (and can be applied to other types of discrimination), characterizes its impact on health, and considers the role that government, healthcare professionals, and health researchers must play to mitigate the consequences of discrimination and inequity. Do take a moment to read this short, but extremely enlightening work.

And, with the upcoming academic year approaching, please take a moment to reflect on what you can do to help our school influence in ways that discourage divisiveness and welcome inclusiveness. Whether seemingly small with a simple gesture of kindness or challengingly big with re-thinking a policy or practice, the role we play and actions we take will be meaningful for us and beyond us.

For the recent and past mass shootings, we should and do offer sincere thoughts and prayers. But, let us offer more by making the most of every and any opportunity to influence change to stop gun violence and the hate that is provoking it. We must all play a role.