The season of records continues. From the Chicago Cubs breaking their 108-year championship drought, to our "non-drought" of record rainfall in August, to the recent balmy days in early November, we have been both blessed and challenged as far as records are concerned.
While our year got off to a difficult and challenging beginning with the rain and flooding, our two soccer teams advanced into the second round of the respective NCAA Division III soccer tournaments; unfortunately their seasons ended after that second tournament game. Despite having to play some "home games" on the road, both the women's and men's teams fought through these early challenges to take the Iowa Conference titles. Congratulations to both teams!
I led and moderated a Campus and Community Safety Town Hall on November 9. Through the fall semester, I had been in conversation with our Student Senate about several safety issues that affect our community both on and off campus. While Decorah is a relatively safe community, to quote our director of campus security and safety, "we are not immune to the issues of the broader world." As we work to educate students regarding prevention, take continual steps to improve campus security, and to respond to incidents that do occur, we always remind ourselves to remain attentive and vigilant.
When incidents and crimes occur, many of us feel as though the ground has shaken underneath our feet. Our sense of comfort and security can be questioned. We want answers. Why did this happen? Who is responsible for these actions? What can we/I do? Perhaps you have wrestled with such questions in your home community. For us it a process of looking inward to our community and to ourselves as well as ensuring our relationships with local law enforcement are strong. These are vital ingredients to maintaining a safe environment.
Students are concerned not only about their physical safety but we also attend to their emotional and social safety. We recently came through one of the most negative and in many regards, dispiriting election seasons. For our students, many of whom had the opportunity to vote in their first presidential election, this season continued the tenor of civil discourse that has been present throughout their entire lives. There are few if any good models for them to look to see problem-solving, confidence-building, and shared understanding and appreciation at work. We know for some students the days after the election brought feelings of uncertainty, insecurity, and generalized anxiety. Two days after the election, several departments and programs sponsored a post-election brunch, providing an opportunity for students to process the election.
Looking inward to our community, we can see evidence of how this special community provides a spark of hope for the present and future. I am not naïve enough to believe we have no issues or challenges in our community, but we are positioned well to address both the local challenges and those that lie beyond.
As we work together to attend to our overall safety, it is clear students are meaningfully engaged in their community. They seek ways to identify solutions, are receptive to ideas, and want to move the community forward. The Student Senate sponsored the Campus and Community Safety Town Hall and we had a conversation about safety improvement efforts on campus over the past several years. We also heard from both our director of campus safety and security and a Decorah police officer regarding personal safety, prevention tips, and why reporting incidents and crimes is important. Additionally, we had the opportunity to engage in questions with those in attendance. Valuable information was shared and we anticipate we will hold a similar town hall in the spring semester.
One of the students who attended the town hall approached me afterward and thanked me for sharing in detail all the safety measures Luther has taken. She realized she had taken many of them for granted. More specifically, many of the measures have simply become part of the rhythm of her experience at Luther. Her feedback was appreciated and it's a reminder we can do more to educate students on our safety infrastructure while we continue to find ways to maintain and improve our safety and security.
With the election complete, we found many students struggling with the meaning of the outcome. Whether a student supported one of the two major candidates or one of the third-party candidates, the post-election environment has brought an atmosphere of unease and uncertainty. As I watch and learn of incidents of intolerance happening at other college campuses, we have been fortunate to move forward without similar responses on campus. One of our first-year student senators remarked to me how he felt blessed to be at Luther and was proud of our community's response. He further commented he has friends at three other Iowa institutions that all reported a much different environment. Again, I am not foolish to believe nothing will happen on our campus, but this community does offer something special. And, we need to remain vigilant in relation to incidents of bias that may occur in our community and support students and allies affected when they occur. Simply, that is living our mission.
Perhaps it was in the deepest moment of our fall semester that I saw this specialness arise. I have been so appreciative of the many colleagues and students who helped to shepherd us forward following Bjorn Norderhaug's accidental death in late September. His classmates, professors, and staff who knew him all rose to bring forth his spirit and energy for all to remember. Our response team - Student Life, College Ministries, Counseling Service, and our communications team - worked closely with one another, Bjorn's family, and the community to provide necessary and timely resources and information.
Moving together quickly, we all experienced something profound. Indeed, this community is special. It is resilient. It is hopeful. Bjorn's friends, classmates, teammates, fraternity brothers, faculty, and staff came together in the hundreds for an evening vigil in the Center for Faith and Life the same day we learned of his death. The following week, the Inter-Greek Council offered a memorial service for Bjorn in the Center for the Arts featuring music, prayers, and community. Bjorn's family was present for the memorial and it was one of the most special experiences I have witnessed.
Ideally, we do not move through difficult times alone. In the worst of times, we hopefully can find ourselves blessed to be part of a community - a community that rises to the needs of its members. I have seen this through this fall semester. I experienced it when my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer only three months into my first fall semester working at Luther. Whether teams battling through disruption to their practice and competition schedules, students helping local families with flood damage, college faculty and staff helping and supporting students, or students discovering how they can and do make a difference for one another - Luther College is an amazing place. We may not always experience this on a daily basis or reflect on it often enough and it sometimes takes difficulty and tragedy to illuminate what is present.
With Thanksgiving upon us, I simply give thanks for this wonderfully resilient, hopeful community of students, faculty, and staff and all those who support them near and far.