Letter from Richard Hays 20100907

*The following was a printed letter delivered to my student box responding to a letter I sent to then-interim Dean Hays which described an experience I had during orientation. 

Dear Mr. Mehl-Laituri,

Thank you for taking the time to write me a moving and obviously painful letter. On behalf of the Duke Divinity School community, let me say that I regret the insensitive response you encountered during the CAPS presentation. I was not present at the time, so I was unaware of this event.

I think the reaction of the first-year students is probably an indication that many of them have lived sheltered and privileged lives. If so, killing is for them something that happens in the movies or in video games, but not in real life. I would hope that by the time they graduate, they might have a deeper understanding of the depth of human sin and suffering. There are, however, no guarantees of that.

I am grateful for your testimony and for your obedient decision to drop your weapon. And I hope and pray that during your years as a student at Duke you will discover deep theological resources to support and sustain your convictions. Your own “smoldering pain” may in the end become a source of life-giving ministry to others, others with whom you will be able to identify deeply. I pray that it will be so.

I share your sense of puzzlement about what actions could be taken to set this matter right. One idea that occurs to me is that you might write a letter to the CAPS representative who made the casual remark about killing someone (if indeed it was made in jest). I think it likely that a person in such a role would want to know how painful that remark was to you. (See Matthew 18: 15.) An honest letter from you might prevent a repeat performance in future years.

I’m sure that during the coming year, you will have occasion to share your story with others in the entering class. That sharing is likely to be difficult, but it may prove both healing for you and eye-opening for others.

I pray that in the weeks ahead you will find a caring, supportive community here at the Divinity School. If I can be of any help to you, don’t hesitate to let me know.

– Richard B. Hays


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