CCBC supports veterans but must put safety first

College president explains position on ex-soldier who wrote of addiction to killing

November 29, 2010|By Sandra Kurtinitis

I am the mother of a soldier, and on the back window of my car is a sticker that proclaims "I am the proud parent of a soldier." But as leader of an academic institution, I am also responsible for tens of thousands of people — students, staff, faculty and guests.

As the president of the Community College of Baltimore County, I wish to share — to the level appropriate — the college's position on the case regarding Charles Whittington, a veteran featured in a recent Baltimore Sun article. Unfortunately, many have rushed to conclusions based on what they have read or heard about this case. Although cast as a tale of mistreatment of a veteran, the larger issue, from the college's perspective, must be one of proactive concern for the broader college community, while also providing appropriate care for the individual. The resulting circumstances can be difficult and easily misunderstood.

CCBC is a huge institution that supports and instructs nearly 74,000 students a year, all marked by their diversity. Some come to class in a veil or a hijab, others in a hoodie, while still others wear their hair in dreadlocks. All are welcome; all are nurtured in a community that considers "inclusiveness" as one of its core values.

As an academic institution, we embrace free speech and do not censor what is written in the student newspaper. However, it would be hard for those of us charged with the safety and well-being of the institution to read the article in question — in which Mr. Whittington wrote, in graphic terms, of what he described as an addiction to killing — without the images of Fort Hood, Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois looming large. In an environment as diverse as ours, not to react to threatening words, especially when they are coupled with ethnic slurs, would not only be unthinkable, it would be irresponsible.

We understand the use of writing as a private, therapeutic exercise for a traumatized individual. We have compassion and empathy for the struggles of the veteran working to rehabilitate his life, and we have put supports in place for him to continue his academic work during this time. Nonetheless, we do not know this young man as his family and friends do. We must take objective measures to address the impact that the sharing of such private thoughts in a public forum may have upon the well-being of the whole community.

In writing this response, we at CCBC do not seek consensus or approbation. We are clear on what our direction must be. We are well aware of the myriad responses emerging from the public airing of this situation. Many have found the veteran's words to be disquieting; some read them as threatening. Some — particularly members of our campus veteran communities — have been outraged at the article; others rush to his defense. My purpose in responding to the themes of alleged injustice and administrative callousness is to assure the Baltimore Sun's readers that the college has worked to achieve a balanced response to a delicate situation through mechanisms that support both the student and the college community.

We at the Community College of Baltimore County value the sacrifices made by our veterans on our behalf. We are proud of our long tradition of supporting and nurturing these men and women, both in and out of the classroom. The success of our efforts has been acknowledged by Military Advanced Education, a journal that lists CCBC as one of the nation's "Top Military-Friendly Colleges and Universities."

Thousands of veterans have graduated from CCBC; 800 are enrolled in our courses this semester. We believe that this kind of commitment is the real CCBC story.

Sandra Kurtinitis is president of the Community College of Baltimore County. Her e-mail is president@ccbcmd.edu.

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