March 17 2019

Burlington Superintendent Pens Letter Calling for Love and Acceptance in Wake of Hate-Inspired Mass Shooting


Burlington Superintendent Eric Conti penned an open letter to Burlington’s students and their parents in the wake of the shooting at two mosques in New Zealand on Friday that left 50 people dead and others wounded.


“I’m sorry to be writing to you in response to another hate-based, mass shooting,” he said in the opening of his letter. “Friday’s heinous shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand is another tragedy that, along with Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the march in Charlottesville, has its foundation in hate.”


“I am heartbroken that I have to spend another weekend composing a letter to reassure Muslim members, and all members, of our schools that you are safe, respected, valued, and loved,” Conti continued. “We are fortunate to have you in Burlington to add to our rich culture and religious diversity.”


Conti went on to say that, as both learners and educators, everyone in a position of responsibility must work to combat hateful ideologies and their spread in our culture. Part of that, he argues, is to recognize one’s own privilege and to rise above the sense of immunity from the world’s problems that don’t directly impact one’s self.  


“More recently I am coming to understand that my privilege does not have its roots in economics, but rather in attention or choice,” he wrote. “My privilege is that I can choose to ignore the recent hate crimes. I can say that New Zealand is a world away and doesn’t involve me. I can choose to ignore comments on social media or from public figures that stoke the flames of hate and my daily life and safety will not be directly impacted. Not all members of our community share that privilege, however, and I cannot pretend that what affects my community does not affect me.”


Conti said he is dedicated to making a journey of self-discovery and invites everyone in the community to do the same.


“I am simply imploring you to choose empathy over apathy,” he wrote. “Understand that many in our own community do not have the choice or privilege to ignore the expanding atmosphere of nationalist sentiment that sets the stage for the growing number of hate crimes we are all witnessing.”


Finally, Superintendent Conti ended by reaffirming that all Burlington schools are places where all people are accepted and encouraged students to demonstrate this with acts of kindness in the week ahead.


“Burlington schools are places of acceptance,” he said. “We must acknowledge that we all play a role in creating and maintaining these places. To fulfill that role, we must promote acceptance of differences and foster compassion and love.  Please do not accept these mass killings as normal. Even if you have difficulty immediately identifying with those targeted, standing on the sidelines is an expression of privilege that is not worthy of our classrooms or our community.”


“In the coming weeks, please take a few minutes to introduce yourself to someone at school you do not know,” he continued. “Ask them about their family and their favorite food. Show an interest in them and share something about yourself.  I am certain that you will find something in common. It is these core commonalities that inoculate us against events intended to divide us.”


Read the full letter here.


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