|Students gather in the Great Room of the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center for a Mass of Petition and Thanksgiving in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
The first words of my column must, of course, be dedicated to the gigantic weather phenomenon called Sandy that began as a hurricane and morphed in to a superstorm, wreaking havoc on the eastern seaboard of the United States. Though many of us here in the Washington area experienced discomfort of one kind or another — from having to evacuate temporarily, as our students in Curley Court did, to having to deal with power outages, leaky roofs, and flooded basements — we did not feel the full fury of the storm the way that the inhabitants of New York and New Jersey did. Since many of our students come to the University from these states to the north, they naturally worried about the fate of their families and friends caught up in the storm’s destruction. Sadly, the parent of one of our students lost his life as a result of Sandy. We grieve with him and pray for his father, his family, and all those who experienced serious and even devastating losses.
Hundreds of our students sent their prayers on Tuesday, Oct. 30, at a Mass in the Pryz Great Room organized by Campus Ministry and celebrated by Father Jude and others. The Mass of Petition and Thanksgiving was our community’s way of not only asking God to help those who needed it in their time of loss and suffering but also to give thanks to the many people who ensured our safety and wellbeing on campus as Sandy passed through the Washington area. They included our public safety officers, facilities staff, student life professionals, dining services personnel, emergency management team personnel, and many others. I am grateful for the dedication and the professionalism that they displayed. For me, the Mass was both a moving experience and also an activity that was quite natural for us, The Catholic University of America, to engage in. One person who posted on Facebook after the Mass was first announced summed it up well: “Love CUA, they always do what is right! Feeling so blessed to be a part of this amazing community!”
|President Garvey chats with alumni during Homecoming and Reunions weekend.
Just a few days ago, as we made preliminary preparations for Sandy, we celebrated our annual Homecoming and Reunions weekend. This is always a festive occasion for two of our most important constituencies – students and alumni. Both were well represented at the weekend events, with hundreds of alumni returning to their alma mater. This month, on November 13, we will celebrate with the two groups who do the work of the University. We will honor faculty and staff who are marking their 10 and 20 year anniversaries of employment at the University.
I want to thank everyone who participated in the October 16 “shelter in place” emergency drill, and the earthquake drill that followed two days after that. As I said in last month’s column, these drills are time well spent by all of us. They enable us to rehearse what we should do in the event of an emergency, when quick and appropriate reaction may be essential for staying out of harm’s way. They also enable us to test our systems. Many of our notification tools, such as e-mail, voicemail, Twitter, and Facebook, functioned as expected. Unfortunately the DC Alert text notification system did not. We will work with District of Columbia officials to improve that outcome in the future. That’s one reason we have redundancies built into our notification process — so that if one misfires, we’ll be able to reach you some other way.
Last month you probably also noticed an enhancement in the way we notify the campus community when serious crimes (like robberies and assaults) are committed on or near campus. In the past we have disseminated alerts to resident assistants and building watch captains, who then posted them in campus buildings, including residence halls. We also posted the information on the CUA website. After a few crimes occurred near campus this semester, we got feedback from students requesting that we add an electronic alert to heighten their awareness of crimes shortly after they occur. So on October 15, in addition to communicating with our watch captains and resident assistants and posting on the website in the usual way, we sent two crime alerts and one information alert to all students, faculty, and staff via their University e-mail addresses.
I think this extra step was well received. But I also understand that a few people were alarmed. They may have interpreted the e-mails as a sign that the campus is becoming less than safe, or that the surrounding neighborhood is becoming more dangerous. To the extent that those fears exist, they are overstated. Our public safety officers do a splendid job of patrolling campus and ensuring our security. And the surrounding streets are no less safe than other areas of the city. Compared to previous years, there has been no spike in crime on or near campus.
There is no denying that in any large American city like Washington, D.C., crimes of opportunity are a fact of life and that precautions need to be taken to avoid them. It’s also true, as a recent Washington Post article made clear, that college students are singled out by some criminals. This may be particularly true at the beginning of a new academic year, when Washington sees an influx of new students unfamiliar with the city. The longer fall nights and approach of the Christmas holiday season, when our popular culture places a premium on acquisition of material goods, may also increase criminal activity. The best advice we can offer to everyone is to stay alert and use common sense. If you do, that should not deter you in the least from enjoying all that Washington has to offer.
November 6 is Election Day and the conclusion of a closely contested presidential race. I hope you will honor our democratic system by taking the time to vote. Whatever the outcome of the elections, let us put our disagreements aside in time for Thanksgiving, when we will gather together to thank God for His many blessings to our nation.
Finally, I hope you will join Jeanne and me on Friday, November 30, for our annual Christmas Tree lighting in the Pryzbyla Center Atrium.