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Statement on the Tragedy in Orlando

Monday, June 13, 2016

Dear Members of the VCU Community,

We were devastated over the weekend as we heard over and over about the lives of the innocent people killed in the largest mass shooting in our nation’s history. These women and men were at a nightclub in Orlando, and were specifically targeted because they were members of the LGBTQIA community celebrating Pride Month.

The hatred that led to this event cannot be the legacy of the lives stolen, nor what defines this tragedy. Instead, this latest act of senseless violence galvanizes us and reminds us that the mosaic of life is fundamental to our humanity.

Many have characterized this act of violence as unspeakable. But we must speak. We must move beyond anguished silence. It is in the midst of tragedy that we must find a voice that is courageous, emphatic and resolute in its avowal that every human being matters.

We must also remember that the heinous act of one hate-filled person neither implicates nor defines a community; it is the act of one man. Nor does it cause us to waver in our belief that diversity is what makes the human experience so extraordinary. We cannot divide ourselves because of our religion, our sexual identity, our race or ethnicity, where we are from, or what we dream of. There is no “us and them.” There is only us, standing together in support of our brothers and sisters in Orlando and around the world.

In the wake of this tragedy, there have been many voices offering condolences and searching for answers. In the days ahead, as we come together to heal, the voice that will matter most will be ours. We must use it for good, as a tool that builds bridges, that offers hope, and that reminds us not only to tolerate each other but to lean on each other to advance the human experience.

That is, I believe, the fundamental mission of our university. We will show the power of a community that comes together to contribute to our students, to knowledge and to a better world. We will educate a generation of leaders for whom acceptance and respect transcend division. We will reach out to those who need us, whether it is to heal, to hear or to hope. Far from being removed from society, we will compel ourselves to model the very best of society.

We stand with those working for the progress and promise of all human beings, who vastly outnumber those working to tear humanity down. We stand with those who embrace one another, not only when compelled by tragedy but when building a better society. We stand with Orlando by working for change everywhere.


Michael Rao, Ph.D.
VCU and VCU Health System