On Nov. 8, 2018, I woke up at 2:58 a.m. to several texts explaining that there had been a shooting at Borderline, a country bar in my hometown of Thousand Oaks in Ventura County, about two hours from OC. In a sleepy haze, I blinked my eyes at the messages and tried to figure out if I was dreaming. The non-fictional nightmare continued as one of my best friends told me that our childhood friend Blake Dingman was missing.
The next day, I went to my Christian Heritage class with the expectation that I would hear how Blake spent the night at a friend’s house and did not hear his phone. Next to my lecture notes, I had the CNN live update on the mass shooting tab open. I found myself refreshing every couple of minutes to be certain that his name would not pop up on the updates.
Every time I checked my phone during class, I saw a new notification from someone asking if I was safe and if I had any updates on Blake.
At 11:34 a.m., my mom messaged me to let me know that the FBI had contacted Blake’s mom to tell her that Blake was one of the victims at the Borderline mass shooting.
I cleared my schedule and sat at a coffee shop with my roommates, 86.4 miles from home. I found myself glued to my phone switching between messages, CNN live updates, and Twitter.
The day after the mass shooting, the Woolsey Fire and Hill Fire broke out in Thousand Oaks and Malibu. My mom was not able to visit Blake’s mom, because she had to pack up her home and evacuate.
Six hundred sixteen structures burned and 57,000 were in danger from the Woolsey Fire.
Beyond Southern California, the northern part of our state is suffering. The Camp Fire has destroyed over 11,000 homes, and the death toll is currently 81, according to a CBS News report on Nov. 20.
I am not the only student that has been affected by the Borderline shooting or the California fires.
Vanguard’s lack of attention to these tragedies has left me feeling alone and unsupported by my community.
I have attended all of my classes in the week following these tragedies and only two professors mentioned the fires and not a single professor mentioned the shooting.
There are Vanguard students from Ventura County, so why has the school not formally addressed Thousand Oaks and the families that are suffering? Why aren’t professors, pastors, or students talking about it? Why hasn’t chapel prayed for them?
Westmont College, a Christian University in Santa Barbara, is only 30 miles closer to Borderline than Vanguard. Westmont had several chapels addressing the shooting. Emails were sent directly to the students from Thousand Oaks area reminding them of school resources. One Westmont student who is from Thousand Oaks, Tabitha Brown, explained that she felt “supported by the Westmont community” and that her school was showing Christ-like love to her.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us that there is a “time to weep, a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
Give us a time to weep and give us a time to mourn.
God does not call us to pretend like nothing is broken in the world. He calls us to reach to those who are suffering from more than spiritual depravity; we should be responsive to all tragedy.
I just wanted a moment of respect to be shown for Thousand Oaks. Let’s encourage one another to take some sort of action. Look up some way to donate. Let’s stand alongside one another and pray for the brokenness.
These counties aren’t the first to see tragedy, and they won’t be the last.
Our campus should be in the habit of responding to support their students in times of tragedy. Vanguard’s natural response should be to rally around those hurting in the community.
I’m not asking for sympathy for my friend that I lost, or for the terror my family who was actually present in the area during the fires. I am not asking for people to ask how I am doing. I am not asking for people to give me their condolences. I’m asking for my school, that I call a second home, to at least mention the heartache that so many Vanguard students have been experiencing over the past couple of weeks as they watch their homes and the homes of their loved ones burn.
This is all of our losses. This is humanity’s loss.
If we are a community, this is not just the loss of your peers, it is your loss, too.
Vanguard could have sent out an email informing the student body. Students could have been reminded of resources on campus, such as the Counseling Center. Chapel could have dedicated a moment of silence or prayer to those affected. There could have been someone to make an announcement or spend a chapel advising students on how to deal with the tragedy from a Christian perspective. They could have promoted financial or spiritual ways to help those suffering.
But instead, there was virtual silence.
Ventura County needs love. Butte County needs love. The students on our campus that are affiliated with these areas need love. As a Christian institution that claims to care about the personal lives of students, Vanguard should be active in supporting students that have been affected by tragedies like mass shootings and devastating fires.