UA and Tucson: Two Communities, United
Across the UA campus, students and faculty and staff members united in droves with Tucson community members to memorialize a tragic shooting that disturbed the hearts of many after six were killed and numerous others were injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Communications
Jan. 12, 2011

The University of Arizona and Tucson are so tightly intertwined that within hours of the Jan. 8 mass shooting, community members began to mobilize.

Across the UA campus, students and faculty and staff members helped coordinate events, memorials, vigils, fundraisers and other symbolic measures of community cohesion and memory of those injured and killed in the northwest Tucson shooting. Six people were killed, and several others were hurt, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Among the dead are UA alumnus U.S. District Court Judge John M. Roll, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green and Giffords' director of community outreach, Gabe Zimmerman. 

More than 26,000 community members came to campus Wednesday night for the "Together We Thrive: Tucson and America" event at McKale Memorial Center. The event was attended by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, victims' families and friends and many community leaders, all joining together to lift the spirits of those affected by the tragedy.

The Associated Students of the University of Arizona and Arizona Students' Association collaborated to gather student volunteers for the Wednesday night event and a separate memorial on the UA Mall held earlier in the day.

"I think the entire university community has really been impacted by what has happened, and it is evident in seeing how many students are getting involved," said Elma Delic, the Arizona Students' Association chair.

Within fewer than 48 hours of learning about Obama's visit, the student associations had a list of 400 student volunteers "and counting," Delic said.

"And the students know that there is a good chance they may not be able to go inside," said Delic, also a UA senior studying journalism and political science. "So just seeing the great amount of people willing to volunteer, knowing they may not be able to go inside, is very telling of the entire university community."

Center for Student Involvement and Leadership student volunteers encouraged people to sign personal messages for the "Chain of Expression," which will be placed on display at the UA. 

Within hours, thousands of people had signed "links." 

"You can see how much people care and how much their hearts were broken," said Maria Garcia, a graduate assistant with the center, known as CSIL. 

"And it shows that while these things can happen anywhere, what I also see is the good that is coming out of what happened," Garcia said. "What ends up happening is that you see people can put aside whatever differences they have and support one another for a greater good." 

Jeannette Maré, executive director of the Ben's Bells Project just off campus, has also been overwhelmed with calls since putting out a call to make 1,000 bells to commemorate the victims of the shooting.  

It is the project's largest distribution to date.

Maré and her family initiated the project eight years ago after one of their sons, Ben, died unexpectedly. Since then, Ben's Bells have been distributed throughout southern Arizona and across the nation, serving as a signal of kindness and healing - especially with complete strangers.

"Ben's Bells is a symbol of how everyday interactions are so very important. This is how we make an environment really feel connected," said Maré, the project's executive director and a UA alumna. Maré retired from her faculty position at the UA in December to take on full-time work with the project.

"This is what we have when we are in this much darkness - we have each other, and this is what we have to focus on," Maré said. 

On Thursday, she and other volunteers will distribute 1,000 bells throughout Tucson, heading out to all points of town from the project site, located 816 E. University Blvd., at 7 a.m.

The response has been so overwhelming from the UA and Tucson communities that Maré said she will likely not be able to supply a bell for everyone stepping forward to volunteer. However, the studio will be open for individuals who want to make bells for future distribution.

"It's a really cathartic and connecting experience, and Tucson will need more and more and more healing," said Maré, adding that the project had distributed bells after Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Virginia Tech shootings, the Hermosillo day-care fire and other tragedies.

"The idea is that the kindness the people put into the bells will go out, and people don't know where it will go," Maré said. 

"People really want to do something out of tragedy. That's something beautiful," she added. "Showing kindness anywhere in anyway is helping to contribute to the community's healing."

Healing was also at the center of an interfaith memorial service co-hosted Wednesday afternoon by the Hillel Foundation and the University Religious Council. The Lutheran Campus Ministry also was involved in the service, which drew more than 200 people.  

Laura Wilson Etter, Hillel's director of engagement, said she and others began to learn that some of their students had interned with Giffords; others were struggling to cope with the tragedy.

"When we started talking about what we could do for our students, we realize that this wasn't just about the Jewish community, Catholics or Christians, but the whole community," Etter said.

Father Bart Hutcherson, a pastor at the St. Thomas More Catholic Newman Center, said tragic situations like the shooting tend to breed feelings of vulnerability, alienation, sadness and fear. 

"All of these are injuries to the community," said Hutcherson, who was called to UMC to pray with Green's family after the shooting. "But through our community, we can heal." 

And Rev. Ron Rude of the Lutheran Campus Ministry said that why those who attended the service were not among those physically wounded, that "we want to be supportive and present." 

And while he said the UA, city and nation are still well, "we carry on our shoulders a responsibility" to be mindful, respectful, peaceful, helpful, humble and courageous.

UA President Robert N. Shelton, who also spoke during the interfaith service, said the community events, such as the interfaith service, were necessary and timely.

He told the crowd that gathered on the UA Mall: "Know that this is a resilient community; know that this is a strong community."