Two factors at play in Sunday's tragic shooting in Oak Creek, not far from our own campus in West Allis, need attention, especially from institutions of higher learning. I believe we can all agree that those issues are mental illness and intolerance.
That we now have reason to fear being in places formerly considered the most safe in the world -- houses of worship and movie theatres, not dark, lonely streets -- signifies we're at a terribly dangerous place.
First, the gunman, Wade Michael Page, was a United States Army veteran with a history of challenges.
It must be obvious by now, especially so soon after Aurora tragedy, that those who are troubled need more assistance than they're getting. Too many people are slipping through the cracks and there are too few systems in place to mandate counseling and treatment. Individuals with anger and frustration are on their own, vulnerable and unable to stop themselves from turning on others, sometimes with deadly consequences.
While these shortfalls in the system may directly impact few people, the indirect affects are too grave to ignore.
Second, while it would be shortsighted to say a lack of tolerance is the major factor in such incidents -- there is simply no way we can stop every angry individual from being violent -- the culture of intolerance fostered by too many is likely to breed further tragedy.
There are those in this country who mourn a homogeneous society and long for a time long ago when we were a Christian society of similar looking Americans. Talk radio in this country is full of hate speech deriding the America we have become.
Well, like it or not, the United States is multicultural and will continue to be so.
There are Sikhs in Wisconsin, Muslims in Montana and Hispanics in every corner of the U.S.
This is the case all over the world. In Great Britain, the non-white population has grown from 6.6 million in 2001 to 9.1 million in 2009, or nearly one-in-six, according to that country's Office for National Statistics.
In 2008, the French national institute of statistics INSEE estimated that 11.8 million foreign-born immigrants and their direct descendants (second generation) lived in France representing 19 percent of the country's population.
And so it is with the rest of Europe.
We must move on from the thought that we're going back to an earlier time. We're not. The question is how best to deal with our multiculturalism.
At a recent White House meeting on interfaith dialogue, I learned that many colleges are focused on educating students about individual differences and I shared with my colleagues a program whereby all new students will work on a service project to promote interfaith collaboration.
We must force social interaction among all members of the academic community. Students strive to learn more about faiths other than their own both inside and outside the classroom.
The best example of this effort is the work of students on rebuilding projects around the United States in conjunction with the New York Says Thank You Foundation, an organization that brings first responders alongside volunteers of all ages to construct churches, residences and community buildings that have been destroyed by natural disasters.
It is an excellent way to have Muslims, Catholics, Jews and others stand side by side to work for the common good.
Tolerance must be taught at the earliest ages and carried on to colleges and universities. Perhaps programs like these could be implemented at the K-12 and/or high school level?
Further, those in the media have a responsibility to stop breeding hate.
Only when we accept our differences, and the different country we've become, will we begin to change what has become a multi-cultural, yet fractured nation into one where those cultures act together, maintaining traditions while adapting to living together with common goals. If we move to get help for more people with mental illness, we may have a chance of stopping the fear that seems to be infiltrating even those places we used to consider havens.