Congratulations to Shining Hope for Communities

Today the Hilton Foundation announced that an organization with deep roots at Wesleyan received the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize for 2018. Shining Hope for Communities won the $2 million prize, “the world’s largest annual humanitarian award presented to nonprofit organizations judged to have made extraordinary contributions toward alleviating human suffering.” The foundation website puts it this way: “A distinguished panel of independent international jurors selected SHOFCO, which catalyzes large-scale transformation in urban slums by providing critical services for all, community advocacy platforms, and education and leadership development for women and girls.” SHOFCO was started by two recent Wes alumni, Kennedy Odede ’12 and Jessica Posner ’09—the two were married a couple of years ago and recently added baby Oscar to the family.

I remember vividly when Kennedy, Jessica and a group of their Wesleyan friends came to my office to describe the women’s health clinic they were opening to complement the school for girls they had started in Kibera, Kenya. The clinic is named for Johanna Justin-Jinich, their fellow Wes student who had been murdered not long before. Kibera is Kennedy’s home, and it was there that he and Jessica met when she was studying abroad. Kennedy enrolled at Wesleyan and the two had long had the intention of returning to Kibera to help future generations of Kenyans receive a quality education and have access to health care.

Many of us at Wesleyan have been involved with SHOFCO and are deeply moved by this recognition from the Hilton Foundation, which will further strengthen this great organization. Congratulations!!

A Time for Recollection

In the weeks leading up to the end of this semester, my thoughts have often turned to the awful events of a year ago when a vicious attack took the life of Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10. Our community was profoundly shaken by this murderous hate crime, and the sorrow we felt then will continue to ripple in our lives.

I recently received a message from Johanna’s uncle, Eric Justin, who was sending me news of the family members I’d been in contact with last spring. He related how pleased he and the family are to have grown closer to Johanna’s friends from Wesleyan. He described them as a “Godsend,” and was so proud to learn that a group of Wes students are naming a women’s health clinic in Kenya in his niece’s honor.

I was particularly moved by a letter I received earlier this year from Johanna’s grandmother, Renate, a holocaust survivor who now is writing her own life story in book form.  Renate also sent me a book that Johanna had written and illustrated when she was about the age of my own daughter. The subject was anti-Semitism and how to acknowledge and overcome it.

Tomorrow, the anniversary of Johanna’s death, we will gather for a brief moment together on the steps of Memorial Chapel. The bells of South College will ring at 1:00 pm. A few words will be offered, we will say Kaddish, the ancient Jewish prayer of mourning and praise, and then we will be silent together. I hope that wherever members of the extended Wesleyan family may find themselves tomorrow at a few minutes after 1 o’clock, they will join with us in this community of silence and remembrance.

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Celebration and Remembrance

Today I sent the following message to the campus community:

The end of spring semester, traditionally a time of celebration at Wesleyan, also brings to mind the sad events of a year ago. May 6 marks the first anniversary of the tragic death of Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10. This year, May 6 also happens to mark the end of the semester, traditionally a day when students gather for “Spring Fling” to celebrate their achievements. I know many on campus are uneasy about participating in festivities this year, and I wanted to acknowledge that uneasiness even as we prepare to both mark the end of the school year and mourn our great loss of a year ago. A list of events honoring Johanna’s memory will be sent around soon.

We continue to work and live as a community, and this year we anticipate our annual May celebration being mindful of this tragedy. We all choose to commemorate, celebrate or grieve in different ways. Some of us prefer privacy, others seek out friends or groups. Some of us will pray or reflect, others will dance and sing. We are providing our community – students, faculty, staff and others – with a variety of options to gather together for remembrance, reflection as well as celebration. We have the freedom to pay our respects and remember in whatever way we choose.

Spring Fling has long marked the end of classes, and it still does. The fact that we have chosen not to abandon that tradition is not a sign of disrespect, but it is a sign that we will not change the culture of our campus because of a senseless act of violence. Spring is here. Let us celebrate, and let us remember.

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Turning Again

Today was a very emotional combination of extraordinary events and more routine planning. We are still reeling from Wednesday’s attack, but we are also able to walk freely in the spring sunshine, to resume studying and practicing….even though our feelings of sorrow, anger and bewilderment still make it hard to focus. We are returning to our lives. We are wounded, but we turn again.

I want to emphasize to the Wes community that there is plenty of support available on campus throughout the weekend. Our Class Deans (who have been so generous and thoughtful with their time) will be on call throughout the next few days. The Office of Behavioral Health Services is available 24/7. Call 860 685-2910 when the office is closed. Some of Johanna’s closest friends are planning a memorial celebration of her life for some time in the next week. More information on that will be coming soon. Everyone should know that because of our extension of finals into Friday, May 15, that Wesleyan housing will close on Saturday, May 16 at noon.

I spoke with Johanna’s uncle today, and he conveyed how appreciative the family is for the warm expressions of support from Wesleyan. I want to echo that appreciation again with all my heart.

This afternoon the Huss Courtyard behind Usdan was packed with staff, faculty, students and other Middletown residents as we stood in silence, stood in one another’s company, in honor of Johanna. I asked for peace in the context of our recollection. It was very moving to be together in our grief.

We return to the rhythms of our campus lives with the memory of our loss still very fresh. We turn again, and we remember. May Johanna’s memory be a blessing to us all.

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Tragedy and Security

As most readers of this blog will know, Wesleyan has suffered an unspeakable loss. Johanna Justin-Jinich was shot to death while at work at the Red and Black Cafe on the corner of William and High Streets. Police have reasons to believe that the alleged gunman, now identified as Stephen Morgan, had known the victim in the past. They also have evidence of his hostility to the Wesleyan community, and to Jews, as expressed in his personal writings.

We are in mourning, and our thoughts and prayers go out to Johanna’s friends and family. My office and our emergency team is also focused on keeping our community safe. We are working closely with the Middletown Police Department, and I am very grateful for their assistance.

Classes are over, and we have canceled all special events. We are deploying additional security and instructing students to remain indoors. We continue to re-assess the safety context with the help of appropriate authorities.

You can find security updates at: http://www.wesleyan.edu/newsrel/security

Below is a statement I released this morning.

A beloved member of our community has been brutally murdered. Our deepest sympathies and condolences go out to the family and friends of Johanna Justin-Jinich. This is a tragic time for them, and for all of us in the Wesleyan community. We are all deeply saddened and shocked by this event.

We are working closely with the Middletown Police. Since the suspect in yesterday’s fatal shooting has not been apprehended, Wesleyan has instructed all students to remain inside their residences and to remain vigilant. We have also asked faculty and staff not to come to their offices unless otherwise instructed.

The police investigation continues, and we remain in contact with them about all developments. We will send information via the usual channels as it becomes available. I assure you that we are doing all we can to ensure the safety of our students and campus.

Counseling services will continue to be made available to our students, faculty and staff. All of us grieve for the loss of Johanna Justin-Jinich.

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