July 13, 2016
Dear SMU Community,
Mrs. Turner and I were privileged to attend Tuesday’s interfaith memorial service honoring the lives of the five Dallas police officers killed in last week’s ambush. It was an honor to represent SMU at this hopeful, healing gathering, and I came away thinking about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for SMU, Dallas, and our country.
What I heard most often during the service was a call for unity. It came from President Barack Obama, President George W. Bush, and from Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings.
“Can we do this?” President Obama asked. “Can we find the character, as Americans, to open our hearts to each other? Can we see in each other a common humanity and a shared dignity, and recognize how our different experiences have shaped us?”
These words are meaningful for our own campus community, as we together are feeling deep sorrow and concern for our city and country. At the same time, we continue to grieve and pray for missing SMU Police Officer Mark McCullers, who was swept away in Turtle Creek floodwaters early July 5 while working an off-duty security job on a construction site.
Among those from the University provided the opportunity to attend the service were Officer McCullers’ wife, Tiffany, escorted by leaders from our SMU Police Department and five of our student leaders. Chief Rick Shafer, Assistant Chief Jim Walters and Officer Keith Lamont Wilson represented our campus police force. Student Trustee Stephen “Jake” Torres, Student Body President Blake Rainey, Black Students Association President MacKenzie Jenkins, President of the National Pan-Hellenic Council Jessica Mitchell, and African American Senator and Association of Black Students member Naomi Samuel represented our student body.
As we consider the way forward, I would ask all members of our SMU community to consider the significant role each of us can play in unifying and healing.
SMU is a place of learning, listening and respectful dialogue. It’s a place where we study the world’s most pressing and complex issues, where we teach one another to resolve conflicts peacefully, and where we understand that diversity and inclusion are foundational to our development as human beings. It’s a place where we invite the Dallas-area community to join us in seeking innovative solutions, and where we work together for positive change.
In 2016, we have celebrated the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to SMU. We have made much progress since 1966, and yet we are continuing and must continue to learn from one another. I thank our campus family members, including the committed students who have been meeting with me and other campus leaders, who are sharing their experiences and perspectives, and working together toward ensuring that every person on our campus feels valued.
President Bush, whose presidential library graces our campus, reminded us at the memorial service that unity depends on remembering our values. “We are bound by things of the spirit, by shared commitments to common ideals,” he said.
With the support of everyone in the SMU community, we will move forward with that shared commitment at SMU.
R. Gerald Turner