Regarding El Paso and Dayton

Dear Members of the Harvard Chan School Community,

By Saturday evening, we were mourning a painful and preventable loss of life with 20 dead and 26 injured in a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. On Sunday morning, we were confronted with news of yet another devastating loss of life due to gun violence, with nine dead and 27 injured in Dayton, Ohio. Twenty-nine dead and 53 injured in less than 24 hours, with at least one shooting apparently driven by racial and cultural intolerance. Both events involved the use of military-grade rifles, weapons that have no sensible role in the hands of civilians. In 2019, as of this writing, the US has already experienced 255 mass shootings, outpacing the year before.

The shocking regularity of shootings in this country, be they mass events or gun violence that routinely occurs on a daily basis, is understandingly overwhelming. But even as we grieve the dead, and deal with the aftermath of physical and emotional trauma, there is one thing we should never do: buy into the intractability of American gun violence.

Just this past week, Harvard FXB Director Mary T. Bassett and I published a Los Angeles Times op-ed on the need to take a public health approach to gun violence. As public health practitioners, we know that our country’s singular contagion can be contained—but we also know that it will take the relentless efforts of many, across silos and political aisles, to make containment a reality.

Curtailing the disease of U.S. gun violence can feel futile, and even Sisyphean. But it is not a reason to despair. Public health, now as before, must lead the conversation around common-sense solutions to gun violence. Those solutions are not easily attained, nor are they one-size-fits-all. But they are proven, and they are attainable.

Students who are experiencing distress and seeking support may contact Colleen Cronin in Student Affairs at 617-432-1542 or, or Harvard University Counseling and Mental Health Services at 617-495-2042 (617-495-5711 after hours).

Faculty and staff members may contact Linda Picard in Human Resources at, Jennifer Ivers in Faculty Affairs at, or Harvard’s Employee Assistance Program at 877-327-4278 (877-EAP-HARV).

With gratitude for the work that you do, every day, to better the lives of all.


Michelle A. Williams, ScD
Dean of the Faculty, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health