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Opinion | Do not weigh Reddit law school forums too heavily this upcoming application cycle
Opinion | Do not weigh Reddit law school forums too heavily this upcoming application cycle
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • July 18, 2024

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Opinion | Do not weigh Reddit law school forums too heavily this upcoming application cycle
Opinion | Do not weigh Reddit law school forums too heavily this upcoming application cycle
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • July 18, 2024

‘Community United in Compassion’ asks people to show empathy in times of tragedy

Panelists+speak+during+the+%E2%80%9CCommunity+United+in+Compassion%E2%80%9D+event+in+the+University+Club+on+Tuesday+afternoon.
Spencer Levering | Senior Staff Writer
Panelists speak during the “Community United in Compassion” event in the University Club on Tuesday afternoon.

When discussing her concerns about social division impacting the Pitt community, Jennifer Murtazashvili emphasized the importance of empathy.

“We should disagree about things. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be fulfilling the purpose of this university,” Murtazashvili, a professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said. “But what we can’t do is dehumanize each other. We have to have compassion.”

Faculty, staff and students gathered with community members in the University Club on Tuesday afternoon to attend an event titled “Community United in Compassion,” which focused on starting a dialogue about building a more empathetic Pitt community. This event was a sequel to the first “Community United in Compassion” event, which was held at the end of October in response to the violence in Israel and Gaza.

Tuesday’s event featured opening remarks from University leadership before Abdesalam Soudi, a teaching assistant professor in the linguistics department, and Murtazashvili launched into an open discussion where those in attendance could pose questions to the panelists and share thoughts about the importance of compassion in a community during times of conflict.

Adam Liebovich, Carla Panzella and Emiola Oriola gave short speeches to start the event. Liebovich, dean of the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and the College of General Studies, said the audience was gathered “to stand together, with and for each other.”

“It is easy to gather when we’re celebrating, but I think it is even more important for us to gather when we’re struggling, when people are hurting or uncertain, because that’s when we need each other most,” Liebovich said.

Panzella, assistant vice provost and dean of students, addressed the violence in Israel and Gaza, calling it “some of the most difficult [tragedies] for universities to navigate” and called on the Pitt community to practice compassion when discussing the topic.

“We can be passionate about our points of view, and we can be advocates and activists, and we can be concerned about and compassionate towards those who hold very different and opposite points of view,” Panzella said.

Oriola, director of the Office of Inclusion and Belonging, asked those in attendance to “meet each other in our honest feelings.”

“Let us be a community committed to listening, to understand and not simply respond, to see the person first and not simply see people as categories, and to be people that are united in compassion and not divided in indifference,” Oriola said.

Soudi, a Muslim who was raised in a small Moroccan village, reflected on experiences growing up, living in a post-9/11 America and his role as a humanities professor in “fostering compassion.”

“Because who we are is not written on our foreheads, we have to create a safe space for people to be able to discover those deeper connections with each other,” Soudi said.

Murtazashvili, a Jew from Squirrel Hill who grew up going to the Tree of Life synagogue, spoke about the impact the 2018 shooting had on her community, her time in the Peace Corps and her fear of losing the greater Pittsburgh community due to a lack of community compassion.

“One of the reasons this is really important for us to do, and for me personally, is because I don’t want to lose this community,” Murtazashvili said. “I lost that sense of safety that I had at Tree of Life, but I don’t want to lose all of you.”

Soudi opened up the conversation asking those in attendance what compassion means to them.

Murtazashvili reflected on how her students showed her compassion through practicing patience when she was younger and teaching abroad.

“I made so many mistakes and stumbled cultural misunderstandings, and what I appreciated with them is that they gave me the space to mess up,” Murtazashvili said. “They were very forgiving of me, they didn’t judge me — they just gave me the space to learn.”

An audience member added to Murtazashvili’s thoughts, emphasizing the need for “meeting people as unfinished projects that are still learning.”

A Jewish woman in the audience talked about antisemitic ideology and asked the panelists “how do you deal with someone who wants to hate you?” 

Soudi answered by describing a time when a person walked up to him and called him a terrorist. Soudi said he “felt bad for the person.”

“He can pretty much do anything he wants to do, but he has chosen for his imagination to be so narrow,” Soudi said.

Later in the conversation, an audience member referenced the “Unite the Right” Charlottesville rally in 2017 and said those involved “felt a misguided sense of community in these hate groups.”

“The lack of sense of belonging in our community makes our community members prey off hate, off [fanaticism], off radical ideas, and the more that we make sure that we all belong in our community, the more that we protect ourselves against this virus,” they said.

When discussing the importance of professors in creating a compassionate environment, Soudi said “students are at the center of everything we do.”

“Without students, there are no universities,” Soudi said. “My top priority in my classrooms is to really create that environment where everybody belongs.”

Murtazashvili added that college should be “the place where we can open up the box of uncertainty” so students can “have disagreements and debates.”

“People are gonna say something that they wish they didn’t, but we have to assume, in this community, that people are doing it from the goodness of their heart,” Murtazashvili said. “I wonder too much whether we’re teaching our students the opposite. Someone says something, you go report it, and you don’t actually tell them, ‘You said this, it hurt my feelings.’”

To close the dialogue, Murtazashvili asked the audience what could be done to make Pitt more compassionate. An audience member proposed more emphasis be put on respecting each others’ differences.

“I feel like if you put students, teachers in a setting where they get to genuinely build rapport with their colleagues and their students and their peers, then they can actually learn about each other to actually care to develop that compassion at a deeper level,” they said.

After the event, Angela Williams, executive director of Charles Street Area Corporation, said she came to the discussion to learn about the meaning of unity and compassion.

“There’s a continuum of understanding that people have about things, but I think that that continuum is a lot deeper and longer when it comes to virtues like compassion,” Williams said. “At the end of the day, everybody is just really trying to feel better and be better and that’s a good thing.”

About the Contributor
Spencer Levering, Senior Staff Writer