Our hearts go out to our friends and colleagues, the students and family of Bowie State. The horror that all inabitants of college campuses pray will never befall us fell upon that storied campus on Thursday: a student murdered another, roommate upon roomate, fighting escalating to homicide.
The fact that a woman killed another is, tragically, becoming commonplace. The fact that the crime arose over a matter as inconsequential as music is chilling. The fact that “tensions” were apparent among the suitemates will cause every college administrator to go into overdrive on staff training and more risk management procedures.
No amount of hindsight will restore the promising young life of Dominique Frazier. We recognize her story almost as if she were one of our Trinity sisters. Like quite a few Trinity undergraduates, Dominique was a D.C. Achievers Scholar, the program run by the D.C. College Success Foundation. I am a board member of DC-CSF and the entire foundation family is bereft at this loss. D.C. Achievers are students from Wards 7 and 8 who receive scholarships funded by the Gates Foundation. These courageous students choose college over many negative forces trying to hold them back in their neighborhoods. They have audacious dreams to change their lives, to ensure an economically secure future for their children and families, to help their mothers begin to live in comfort and security.
Knowing what so many D.C. Achievers have to overcome just to get to college each day, the thought that any one of them would die on the college campus, itself, is an unspeakable sorrow.
And what of Alexis Simpson, the alleged assailant? Sadly, we can also recognize some of the elements of her story. She was apparently angry, unhappy with her roommate, dissatisfied with things that happened after she transferred from one college into Bowie. But while we recognize elements of her story, we cannot imagine what unfathomable rage drove her to kill her roommate over a dispute about music.
What we do know is that too many young women and men today grow up in a vengeful society, a place that teaches them to stand up to any form of “disrespect,” to settle scores physically, to demand retribution for every slight no matter how small. Anger management occurs with fists, knives and guns. It’s not just children from the inner city, though some of the racist commentary accompanying the Bowie State stories suggests that such violence is a matter of race and class. In fact, the violence of American society today is pervasive, penetrating the consciousness and forming the character of children everywhere.
At Trinity, we are intolerant of violence. Students may chafe at our disciplinary procedures, but in fact, we would rather accept criticism than have to live with the consequences of a violent act. So, for example, any form of fighting is forbidden, and students who live in residence who engage in fighting, threats or intimidation will be dismissed from residence and possibly from school.
Last year, we dismissed a student from Trinity who threatened another student on Twitter. Later the perpetrator said she was only kidding. We are not laughing. We will and do take the plain meaning of words very seriously.
Guns, knives and weapons of all kinds are forbidden on Trinity’s campus. We can and do confiscate materials that might be weapons when we find them, and when we learn that they might be present in a student room, locker or handbag.
Classroom conduct is also covered by our policies against fighting, harassment and intimidation. Most students are here to learn, and most feel quite frustrated when a very few choose to act out in hostile and disruptive ways. Students need to be on notice that we will not tolerate threats in class, in residence, on Facebook Twitter or other social media, in emails or in the hallways.
Our entire purpose as an academic institution is to help our students grow into mature intellectual actors, completely capable of undertaking some of life’s most sophisticated work with the power of advanced learning. We know that human beings can be fragile, flawed and prone to behaviors that belie the rational, intellectual self. Yet, our job is to help the members of this community discover and exalt that rarified intellectual self while controlling those parts of the human psyche that are hell bent on going off the rails in destructive ways.
As a Catholic institution we also believe that the intellectual self is a manifestation of the soul, the presence of God within us, and when faced with the influence of the baser parts of human nature, we believe that we can call upon both reason and faith to strengthen our resolve. Prayer is not just a response to tragedy, but an integral part of living well.
Let us pray for Dominque Frazier and her family, and the family of Bowie State, and also the D.C. Achievers. Even as we remember this great loss, let us also pray for Alexis Simpson and her family — their loss is also grievous. And let’s also pray for our own community here at Trinity that we can be even stronger in our resolve to live, study and learn in peace and safety.