Vanderbilt community reacts to tragedies in Buffalo, Laguna Woods and Uvalde

Administrators provided resources for the Vanderbilt community, while students are urging the university and elected officials to take action.

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Emily

Overhead view of Nashville city skyline. (Hustler Multimedia/Emily Gonçalves)

Brina Ratangee, Staff Writer

UPDATED: This article was updated on June 3 to include a statement released by Chancellor Daniel Diermeier.

A recent string of mass shootings in Buffalo, Laguna Woods and Uvalde have claimed over 30 lives in a 10-day span. University administrators condemned these national tragedies and offered support to the Vanderbilt community, while students criticized the motives behind the incidents and called for action. 

The mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, occurred on May 14 at around 1:30 p.m. CDT at Tops Friendly Market, a local grocery store. According to Buffalo police, the attack, which killed 10 and injured three, was a hate crime against Buffalo’s Black community. Two days prior to the shooting, suspected assailant Peyton Gendron posted a 180-page manifesto stating that he chose his attack location because it was the nearest location with a high percentage of Black people. The manifesto also cited “great replacement theory”—a racist and antisemitic far-right conspiracy theory alleging that racial minorities are immigrating to Western nations to “replace” the white population.

In an email sent on May 15, Diermeier, Provost C. Cybele Raver and Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion André Churchwell jointly condemned the Buffalo mass shooting.

“This is a painful moment for the city of Buffalo, particularly the predominantly Black neighborhood that was the target of this hateful act, and for our nation, which has seen far too many of these incidents occur,” the May 15 email reads.

Black Student Association (BSA) President and rising senior Brandon Scott similarly condemned the attack in a May 19 statement on behalf of BSA. 

“This event is a grim reminder of the pervasiveness of white supremacy, systemic racism, and the continued inability of this nation to recognize these systems of oppression,” Scott said in the statement.

The Laguna Woods, California, mass shooting occurred on May 15 at around 12 p.m. CDT at the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church. Per Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes, the attack, which killed one and injured five, was a hate crime against the Taiwanese community, stemming from current political antagonism between China and Taiwan. 

Diermeier, Raver and Churchwell extended resources for those affected by the tragedy in both statements. The emails included instructions for scheduling appointments with the University Counseling Center, Center for Student Wellbeing and Center for Spiritual and Religious Life, among others.

“We are keenly aware of the impact of having to again process a violent attack on a community so closely on the heels of the violence in Buffalo,” the May 16 email reads. “We encourage you to seek support as needed through [these] resources.” 

In a June 1 statement, the Asian American Student Association (AASA) expressed solidarity for those affected by the Laguna Woods shooting and criticized the university’s “lack of sensitivity” in labeling the victims as those of “Asian descent” rather than as members of the Taiwanese and Taiwanese-American communities.

The university’s ignorance and lack of acknowledgment of the complications behind the tragedy are not only disrespectful to the victims and their families but often amplify these differences that need open, respectful discussions,” AASA’s statement reads.

Scott added that the university’s responses feel “inauthentic” due to it issuing statements conveying similar wording and sentiment when tragedy occurs.

“This university must do a better job at supporting Black students in tangible ways and interrogating how those same ideologies that cause these events manifest on Vanderbilt’s campus,” Scott said in a message to The Hustler.

The Uvalde, Texas, school shooting occurred on May 24 around 11:30 a.m. CDT at Robb Elementary School. This attack, the nation’s second-deadliest school shooting after Sandy Hook, claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers. The exact motives of the shooter remain unknown, and police response to the attack has undergone scrutiny in recent days due to conflicting reports of the timeline of events. It also has sparked national debate over gun control reform, with students across the nation staging walk-outs coordinated by Students Demand Action

The university did not release a statement in the days immediately following the Uvalde shooting and did not respond to The Hustler’s request for comment regarding the incident. Ten days after the attack, Chancellor Diermeier sent a June 3 email to the Vanderbilt community addressing the gun violence in Uvalde and Tulsa.

Rising sophomore Pedro Rosales-Diaz, an executive board member of the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS), commented on this lack of an official university statement.

“I was hoping that they would release a statement, but it seems suspicious that they haven’t released anything, especially since they responded to the Buffalo and Laguna Woods tragedies very quickly,” Rosales-Diaz said.

Rosales-Diaz added that news of the shooting hurts at a “deeper level” due to Uvalde being a Latinx-majority town

“I was shocked and horrified that this shooting occurred,” Rosales-Diaz said. “I’m glad that our generation is taking action by having protests and moments of silence for the families, but what needs to change is the fact that this shooting will be forgotten in a couple weeks rather than attacking the issue at its roots.”

In Nashville, a March for Our Lives is being organized in part by rising seniors Carson Ferrara and Maddie Amberg as well as Shun Ahmed (‘22). The protest, scheduled for June 11 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. CDT, aims to demonstrate the need for serious change and to call on Tennessee legislators to take action, per Ahmed. On April 25, the Tennessee House passed HB 1735, lowering the minimum age to carry a handgun from 21 to 18. The law mirrors the one passed in Texas in September 2021 that allowed the 18-year-old Uvalde shooter to obtain two assault rifles.

“The recent shootings we’ve seen and all the aftermath has shown how there is a serious need for change to happen NOW,” Ahmed said in a message to The Hustler. “Even here in Nashville, we have seen numerous threats of shootings all through the city no matter it be a school or city corner, which emphasizes the need for change everywhere. This is an issue of the public that we will not let pass once again.”

Amberg emphasized that the June 11 march has the potential to effect change by state legislators.

“We do not have to be held hostage by a gridlocked Congress. Your state lawmakers have the power to take action. They are your neighbors. They are accessible. And they need to hear from us. Especially the Republicans who hold the majority,” Amberg said in a message to The Hustler. “They have the power to ensure this doesn’t happen in a Tennessee school next, and we must hold them accountable until they take that action.”

She also urged Vanderbilt and other universities to take an active role in the movement to end gun violence.

“We encourage Vanderbilt and other leading institutions to use this tragedy as an opportunity to have the important discussions needed to prevent mass shootings like [Uvalde] from happening in the future,” Amberg said in a message to The Hustler.