Content Warning: Mentions of gun violence, graphic descriptions of injuries
I opened my Instagram on March, 10 2022 to see a number of my friends had shared something on their stories. It was a post by The Michigan Daily announcing “The Oxford Edition” from The Statement. The proclaimed intent of this piece was to “memorialize the events that happened at Oxford High School on November 30, 2021.” Additional goals were “to heal, to be heard, to increase the visibility of Oxford and the community’s continued pain and to uplift the voices of those affected.”
As someone from Oxford, Mich., I had high hopes this would be a nuanced reflection on the numerous struggles people in Oxford have faced. However, after reading through all of the articles, I only feel disappointment and frustration. I am disappointed that the diverse set of experiences and emotions felt by the community of Oxford are not well-represented and frustrated that they are, nonetheless, characterized as such.
I am a senior at the University of Michigan and a 2018 graduate of Oxford High School. On November 30, my sister — Kylie Ossege — was shot in the chest at Oxford High School by a gunman I will refrain from naming. I will also refrain from discussing the details of her experience, her injury or her recovery; those details are her story to tell, details that I will never fully understand.
However, what I will mention is that through this experience, I became a silent observer at the epicenter of tragedy. I heard in vivid detail the events that occurred on that day through my sister, details delivered with a nonchalance that haunted me as I drove back home each day with a stare as blank as the night around me. I watched my parents sleep in their hospital armchairs night after night, scared of leaving, scared that their one goodbye could be their last. I met school administrators, administrators who came to the hospital to prove their nightmares wrong, that the girl who they found lying on the ground in a pool of her own blood was truly alive, that she would be okay.
I saw the good around me as well. I met nurses, doctors and therapists who invested every ounce of their being into my sister. I met students who, in their own time of grieving, went out of their way to sit cross-legged on the loading dock visible across my sister’s hospital room, look up at her from afar and talk to her on the phone for hours. And, of course, there was the community of Oxford, whose gifts, messages of hope and acts of kindness gave my family solace in an otherwise dark moment.
This is Oxford. It is a complicated network of intertwined experiences and emotions felt across many long months. It is a collage that expands far beyond the experiences and emotions I have articulated above. It is one that encapsulates the student who forgot her phone at home that day, who felt regret for her blasé “I love you” that morning, a farewell she feared might have been her last. It encapsulates the teacher who sat in the Meijer parking lot with a burning desire to call his wife, to let her know “I’m alright,” but sacrificed his own needs to make sure his students could call their parents first. It encapsulates the father who had to anxiously wait on the red-eye back to Detroit, fearing the moment he turned on airplane mode would be the moment his daughter finally called him after hours of radio silence. And, of course, it encapsulates the college student who rushed back home to be with their siblings, to provide whatever comfort they could. These anecdotes show the multidimensional experiences of Oxford.
Herein lies my issue with “The Oxford Edition.” It is not that the experiences and emotions felt by the authors are invalid. In fact, I resonate with many of their experiences. It is that their experiences represent only a subset of the many experiences which make up Oxford. It falls short of accomplishing its self-stated mission: to memorialize the events of November 30, to increase the visibility of Oxford’s pain and to uplift the voices of those affected. It does not acknowledge the events that range beyond the authors’ lived experiences. It does not recognize the voices of Oxford who want to scream out, to profess the emotions that persist inside of them. Instead, what materializes are reflections of a small group of OHS graduates at the University of Michigan, reflections that betray the broad potential of The Oxford Edition.
Again, these reflections are not invalid. While they have the potential to be incredibly healing, it is the characterization that these experiences are representative of the “voices of those affected” that is wrong. They are reflections on the Oxford High School tragedy by former OHS graduates at the University of Michigan. All other characterizations are simply doing a disservice to the community of Oxford, especially those who continue to struggle, heal and find their voice amid an onslaught of noise from the outside.
Izaak Ossege is a Senior Business student and can be reached at email@example.com.