- Craig Feist
An Open Letter to the Hamilton Community
I was not in KJ when the first HERT message was issued. I wasn’t on my phone, so I didn’t hear it. I was at home, in the common room of my darkside suite, enjoying the weather with the shades up and the windows open as I tried to write my thesis. One of my suitemates came in and notified me of the situation. I joined him in his double, and continued working.
The second message came. “An armed assailant” was on campus. I texted my friends. One of my closest friends was in KJ, “unfortunately...So very scared...But still safe.”
The next message was corrected. No active assailant. “Just a threat,” I told myself, clumsily removing myself from behind my suitemate’s dresser. We played video games for a while. Cracked some jokes. How, I asked, had it not occurred to me to put “shelter in place” on my Senior Spring bucket list?
I don’t know what it was like to be in KJ during those twelve minutes, when we were told a shooter was on campus. But my friends do. They know what it’s like to be in a building where few doors lock and little furniture is moveable and many walls are windows, as they hear shouts in the corridors and fear for their lives.
More than eleven hours elapsed between the ALL CLEAR and the college president’s first response to the “threat incident.” Less than eleven seconds elapsed before I realized that it was nothing more than empty platitudes. Business would proceed as usual, though some “may need to take more time to process what happened.” Which is to say, some might need more than eleven hours to recover from staring Death in the face.
According to President Wippman, “several” students requested Monday and Tuesday classes be officially canceled. He did not make it so, but I was relieved that my professors chose to do so. I could catch up on last night’s missed work. I stayed in bed later than I otherwise would have, and I went into McEwen positively cheery about it—every silver lining has a cloud, I told one friend as I went to put bread in the toaster. I’m a glass (that hasn’t been shattered in a spray of gunfire) half full kind of guy. (I later apologized to him for what might have been perceived as a certain tone deafness.)
The President’s office concluded its first message to students with understanding, saying, “We understand how difficult the events of last night have been for many in our community, and that many may continue to feel anxiety even as we resume our normal activities.”
You know what strikes me about that sentence? I don’t want to bore anyone with technicality, but the structure of that sentence makes it feel like the “we” doing the “resuming” doesn’t include the “many in our community” who “may continue to feel anxiety.” Today, I spoke to the friend who had been in KJ. Life had not “resumed.” The person who made the threat and sent them behind a desk for more than three hours had jammed their pause button.
The first letter from the President’s office, and the one that followed hours later, couldn’t have been written by ChatGPT. Had they prompted the bot with “school shooting threat administrative response template,” it could have conjured more feeling. Props to them for writing it themselves.
Perhaps that’s too harsh. I did get one feeling from President Wippman’s second letter—the feeling that he hadn’t had a single real conversation with a person who had been in the building. And how could he have? Who would want to have a conversation about being forced to face their mortality with a college president?
I don’t want this letter to be taken as an assault on President Wippman. I respect much of the work he’s done in my time here—the vast majority of which I’m wholly unaware of. But I can’t simply accept the decision to normalize what happened on Sunday. To continue thinking, as I initially did, that it was “just a threat."
Esse est percipi—To be is to be perceived. I know that for students, today was a day of perception. Of seeing each other in a way we often forget to. But no matter how long we craned our necks to hear the administration acknowledge that they had perceived us, that they were trying to feel what “many in our community” could not and cannot stop feeling, we heard nothing. The chirp of crickets was deafening.
I’m not asking for much. I’m simply asking that the administration at least pretend to care more about us—the student body, the people who make Hamilton College more than a mere collection of buildings, properties and financial instruments. I’m asking that they do more than assert that all of us—“students, faculty and staff”—are one community. I’m asking them to show they believe that. Not because I need it personally. But because my friends—our friends—don’t deserve to feel like obstacles in the return to “normal.” They deserve to
be perceived. To be heard and seen and felt. They deserve to fully be.
Class of 2023