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College campuses become secondary homes for young adults for four formative years of their life. Colleges and universities act as one-stop metropolises for learning, community, and social engagement. In a city like Boston, filled with a plethora of colleges and universities, President Barack Obama said it best that, “whether folks come here to Boston for just a day, or they stay here for years, they leave with a piece of this town tucked firmly into their hearts.” Higher education practitioners play a crucial role in providing a space for that love to grow whether on-campus, throughout the streets of Boston, or globally. The campus community is a hub for comfort, support and growth amidst all types of early-twenty-something challenges.

In light of the recent bombings during the Boston Marathon and the events that followed it, it became increasingly critical for the on-campus community to provide physical security and protection, as well as emotional resources and spiritual avenues for students to feel cared for in their “home.” I am currently a Graduate Assistant working in higher education and I gathered with a small group of students recalling the emotions that have remained in their minds since that Monday afternoon:

“I was 100 yards from the explosion and had finished the race 5 minutes before the bombs went off.”

“I was stopped near mile 25, unaware of what had happened and angry that I was unable to physically finish the race, which I had trained for the past four months.”

“I jumped in to run the last 3 miles with my friend and we saw the bomb go off, all I could think was ‘thank God she wasn’t running any faster or hadn’t chosen to stop at a restroom a few miles back.’”

“Every time I hear a door slam I jump in fear.”

“Instead of being congratulated for completing the race people immediately ask if I finished, depleting all sense of joy and accomplishment.”

“As I sat in my door room relatively outside of the proximity of the bombs I was still in fear. All I could think of was how many people live in this kind of self-enclosed fear everyday!”

“My heart broke every time they showed Dzhokar’s picture on the TV screen, he was so young and to be corrupted at that age, nearly my age, was numbing.”

As the students shared their thoughts and feelings in the safe and supportive enclosures of a group on-campus, the power of community and unity was overwhelming. Days later, after the capture of the remaining Boston bomber, a Jesuit scholastic, Michael Rogers, SJ, wrote a letter to Dzhokhar which I believe represented many students’ and Bostonians’ feelings. The letter spotlighted Roger’s love for his hometown of Boston and his recognition that both these men who were responsible for the bombings, and the subsequent violence, were also young adults, transplants, but men who too called Boston their home for many years and were a part of communities of higher education. Rogers wrote, “Dear Dzhokhar, I don’t and can’t hate you. I am glad you are in custody, but you are just a kid, and you lost. I will love and pray for you, because somehow your sin was turned for good, and my community and the people I love will only be stronger in the end.”

Both the student’s and Michael’s statements are representative of the power of community, unity, and even more so, love. As students shared these real fears and intense moments of emotional distress it became increasingly clear how important higher education practitioners are, most significantly as community organizers, mentors and counselors. Additionally, in cultivating community and listening deeply to students in the difficult and triumphant times in their lives, higher education professionals becomes even more vital. In expressing our fears and helping others do the same we are creating a space for openness and healing. In addition, we are representing a group of people willing to hold those fears, together, hand-in-hand. To be part of a community that fosters hope and instills love in real and genuine ways is transformative. My witness of the power of community was solidified over the past two weeks in the moments when students, family and friends openly and vulnerably shared how the Boston bombings affected them personally, communally and globally; in the widespread outreach from the local, national and international community; and finally in the underlying message of these tragic events that through perseverance, hope, love and peace the world could change.

Kara Connally was a Master’s Candidate and Graduate Assistant working in higher education at the time of the Boston Marathon tragedy.  The author’s views are their own and do not represent those of any institution, entity or individual.  Please feel free to share this on your social network of choice using the link icons below.  We also welcome you to share your reactions and stories in the comments section below so we may all benefit from your thoughts and wisdom. 

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