I am rattled this morning. Last night, I witnessed interim East Carolina University Chancellor Dan Gerlach defend Donald Trump’s visit to Greenville to a room full of ECU students, faculty and staff.

Several courageous students spoke about their safety concerns on campus and in the larger Greenville community. Some of them shared stories of how they have been chased or intimidated by people emboldened by the recent visit. Filled with stories from my patients and my queer community, I echoed these safety concerns for ECU’s health science campus and eastern North Carolina.

I asked why faculty, students and staff were not given more warning about this visit that created such fear and anxiety and national media coverage. Friends of mine decided to leave work and Greenville that day due to safety concerns. Others were not given that opportunity by their employer.

Faculty at last night’s meeting shared that students asked them where they would be safe on campus or in Greenville, and others were so distracted and distressed by the events that they could not focus on their coursework. Students I spoke to after the meeting said their family members had asked them about transferring schools after the recent events, mostly due to safety concerns.

One of these student leaders said something incredibly powerful that stays with me.

The one thing that Chancellor Gerlach or other ECU leaders could have said was simply, “I’m sorry.” What follows that apology includes many options. I’m sorry that our campus no longer feels safe for some of our students, faculty and staff. I’m sorry that we as ECU leaders did not prepare our students, faculty and staff or adequately respond to the impact and trauma that this visit created. I’m sorry that we are going to lose diverse and talented students, faculty and staff who do not see Greenville or ECU as a desirable place to pursue their education or careers. Any apology would have been appropriate and would have created steps towards healing. None was offered.

Chancellor Gerlach responded defensively to my safety concerns, asking with exasperation what I meant, asking me to justify my fear. As I tried to explain, I reflected on the injustice of asking someone traumatized to explain why they are afraid to a room full of people.

Never once have I asked a patient who presents to me after a trauma to justify their fear. I have never asked a victim of intimate partner violence to justify her fear of her abuser. I have never asked a queer person if “they are sure” they felt unsafe when neighbors yelled homophobic and transphobic slurs at them. Asking someone to do this is not only unethical; it re-traumatizes the person asking someone for help.

After the meeting, I asked Chancellor Gerlach two questions:

1) How much did the Trump administration pay for the use of Minges Coliseum?

2) Where is the money now?

The answers were even more disheartening.

1) $13,500

2) ECU Athletics

So this is what our safety is worth to the administration. This is the monetary exchange that compromised our reputation as a place committed to diversity, inclusion student safety and success.

I asked how these decisions were made, and it was behind closed doors, a small meeting of ECU administrators, without opportunity for the rest of campus or the community to participate in this decision. I will let you decide what this group looked like in terms of ethnicity, income, and social status.

As rattled as I am by all of this, I remain committed to my patients, my students, my colleagues, and my community. I was born and raised in Greenville, and I want to stay here as long as possible. The best part of last night’s meeting was connecting with ECU student leaders who are in the process of changing our world for the better. I believe in them, and I want to make this campus and community a place where they want to stay and thrive.

Kelley E. Haven, MD

Clinical Assistant Professor

East Carolina University

(4) comments


I find this editorial to be a little disheartening. As a society, it seems that people are always offended by something that happens. It doesn’t matter which political party is in power. One side or the other always seems to be traumatized. What ever happened to respecting other individuals position? This professor has a right to their opinion but the amount of “trauma” that are describing seems to be a little bit dramatic. They were so traumatized by a visit by a politician that they could not voice that trauma in a public setting?? I’m not sure I would want an individual that is traumatized so easily being responsible for my health.

It would be interesting for The East Carolinian to do a follow up story and actually look at the statistics. How many students dropped out because of this visit? How many professors quit their jobs because of this visit? How many citizens moved because of this visit? I’m sure it would be close to none. The same as it was when all of the celebrities stated they would leave the country if Trump was elected. I remember quiet a few declaring they would leave the country but I don’t think any actually followed through with it.

As a society, our country and educational system has become rather ridiculous. If something doesn’t go their way, they are suddenly traumatized. Soon, every individual in this country will be suffering from PTSD. I have heard nor read of any individuals being harmed by this visit. I heard of nor saw any violence by either side during this visit. So this professor and students were traumatized by individuals expressing positions different than their own and that person is responsible for educating the future of this country?

I am not a fan or a supporter of this president but I find that people are “traumatized” by different opinions to be disturbing. Can we not leave to live with different opinions and respect those that have it. I am a minority and have experienced racism in my life but it has not traumatized me. It has made me aware of other people and their positions but not “traumatized” my life.

For goodness sakes, be an adult and learn to live in a society where everyone doesn’t agree and never will. If you are so “traumatized” by your employers decision to allow the rally, then leave your employment and find an employer that fits your personal opinions. Good luck with that because whether we like it or not, half of this country voted for this man. So good luck finding a community or employer where you can go and find people that don’t agree with his policies or ideas. It’s not going to happen so grow up and learn to deal with life. Stop whining about everything you don’t agree with. That’s life and isn’t going to change no matter what political party is in power.

Pirate Doctor

Dear Concerned Parent,

I respect your concern and I agree with some points in your post. However, what initially appeared to be an objective response that was fair-and-balanced quickly became subjective and overly opinionated. I make this assertion based entirely after having re-read your post three times. What became clear was you missed the point of Dr. Haven's concerns and quickly personalized your reply from your own emotional viewpoint.

First, as a licensed clinician, who diagnoses and treats people with trauma disorders, I found your response to lack both compassion and understanding. Trauma is very real, and people who are not in the majority do, in fact, experience minority stress that in the aggregate causes mental health conditions, including trauma. While I appreciated you sharing with us that you are a minority and have experienced racism. However, just because you have not been traumatized by your experiences when dealing with racists does not mean that others have not. I would respectfully point out that you projected your own life experiences onto others. In doing so, what I believe I heard yo say is: Because I am resilient, such that, I have not experienced trauma related to my minority status, neither should you. Otherwise. you are weak and immature (you used words such as "grow up").

Please allow me to assure you of this: Most people want their medical provider to have compassion for them and other people's plight. Most people would want their medical provider to have empathy and speak up for them when they do not feel they can do so themselves. Perhaps, you're different and you're entitled to your thoughts and feelings. However, I would respectfully point out that minimizing other people's trauma and dismissing it as an unqualified individual making an "arm-chair diagnosis" lacks compassion and empathy, both of which are needed to understand what I believe Dr. Haven was attempting to do by writing her letter.


I also respect the professors opinion as well as your opinion. You stated that my post quickly became "subjective and overly opinionated" which I believe what a comment on an article is meant to be. My response was meant to be my opinion on what was written. So I take this a an invalid argument just as your reply states your subjective and personalized viewpoint of what was written.

I never once dismissed the trauma that anyone has suffered or feels. I took issue with the parts of the letter that referred to the "impact and trauma that this visit created. I’m sorry that we are going to lose diverse and talented students, faculty and staff who do not see Greenville or ECU as a desirable place to pursue their education or careers." My issue with this is that it is grandstanding and has no basis in fact. As I pointed out in my initial response, at the time of the election, many celebrities and other high profile individuals vowed to leave the country if Trump were elected President. Of those numerous individuals, I am sure it is likely that none actually left. Just as I am also likely confident that no students, staff, or citizens left Greenville because of this visit. It was an argument of if I don't like what you decided and agree with it, then I am going to leave. Similar to a child who is playing with a friend and disagrees so they take their toy and go home. No place in this country exists where everyone agrees or has the same opinion.

Trauma is real and it is nothing that I take likely or joke about. But to equate a visit by a politician who has different views than your own as being traumatic, is marginalizing the traumatic experiences that many people actually face in this country. I also took issue to the part of the professors letter that referred to the Chancellor asking what part of the visit was so traumatic and to provide examples. The author of the letter then went on to discuss how unethical it was to ask a person to tell of their traumatic experiences in public. However, it was the author of the letter who brought up this traumatic experience to begin with in a public setting. If the author of the letter didn't want to explain their experience in a public setting, then why go to a public meeting, stand up, wait to be recognized, and bring the subject up. The author was the one that brought the issue up in a public setting but placed blame on the Chancellor for asking for examples. As you pointed out in your comment, most people would want a medical provider who is caring and understanding about their plight. It seems to me that the Chancellor was trying to understand what experience the author had so he could be caring and empathetic. The Chancellor asked in a public setting, so what, the author brought it up in a public setting. If the author felt that the issue was to delicate to discuss in a public setting then they should not have brought the issue up. The author should have scheduled a private meeting to discuss the issue. That is what a reasonable individual would have done. By bringing the issue up in a public setting, the author gave the appearance that it was ok to discuss the issue but in turn chastises the Chancellor for asking for examples. It was basically saying "I am right and you don't have the right to ask me to explain." That is not how a rational individual handles a discussion or conversation. If a public setting was not appropriate for the conversation, then the author should not have initiated that conversation in public. Don't initiate the conversation in public and then turn around and complain about questions being asked of you in public.

The author chose the wrong venue to raise the issue and instead of taking responsibility for that, they chose to deflect the blame onto the the Chancellor for engaging in the discussion and asking for examples so he could better understand and maybe show understanding and empathy. Due to the position that the author placed the Chancellor in by asking in a public setting, the only responses available from the Chancellor were to inquire about the authors experiences or ignore the topic all together. Both of which would have led the author to complain about the response. Personal responsibility comes into play here. When you bring a topic up in public, you make it public and you should be prepared to discuss your concerns. It seems the author should have maybe stood up and asked to meet privately with the Chancellor to air grievances instead of airing it in public if they were uncomfortable discussing it.

The author goes on to state how they would never ask a patient to discuss their experiences, much less in a public setting The author fails to realize that they are not a patient of the Chancellor and the Chancellor is not there to provide them counseling. The author of the letter is an employee of the University (I assume) and is publicly questioning their "Supervisor" in a public setting about a decision that was made. The Chancellor had every right to ask for examples just as the author had every right to ask it in a public setting. This was not a provider/client relationship at work. It was a supervisor/employee relationship with the author choosing to air their grievances in public but at the same time not wanting to discuss it in public. You can't have it both ways. It makes it look like the author had a goal to obtain attention in a public setting or try to publicly embarrass the Chancellor in a public setting. I am not saying that is what occurred but how it could look to many on the outside looking in. The Chancellor is the head of the University and not the authors medical provider or their personal counselor and comparing the response that a medical provider/counselor would give a client to one that a supervisor would give an employee are two totally different scenarios. If the author expected the receive a response similar to one a medical provider/counselor would give, then the author should have taken their concerns their. They chose to air them in public with the head of a University instead and didn't like the response.

As I stated before, this rally received wide spread national media coverage and there was not one reported incident of violence or any other traumatic events. There were two groups of people present, those who support the President and those who do not (protesters), and both sides expressed their opinions in a civil manner.

The whole point of my comment about this letter was that nearly half of this country voted for this man. If any individual is traumatized by a rally and difference of opinions then they are truly in for a tough life ahead because the truth is, not everyone will always agree on everything. To state that students, faculty, and residents would leave the University and the Greeenville area because of this rally was over dramatic at the least. I state this because where would they go?? In any election cycle, the candidates visit every state in this country multiple times. There is not a state that will not be visited by this man prior to the 2020 election. Does the author of the letter think that every state is going to ban the President of the United States from holding a rally because individuals don't agree with his message or that of his supporters? Not very likely.

The author of the letter pointed out instances of individuals being called homophobic and transphobic names by their neighbors and experienced trauma as a result. I never disputed that events as this can be traumatizing because it is a reality that they are. I took issue with the fact that the author of the letter related this to a visit by a politician. Racism and discrimination against individuals of different sexual orientations has been around for centuries. To equate this to a visit by a politician and blame the University for allowing the rally is what concerns me. As we all know, the University had no choice but to allow the rally due to it being a publicly funded University. So the disgust that the author of the letter described should not have been directed at the University for doing something that it is legally obligated to do.

In closing, relating the traumatic experiences that a person faces to this rally and placing the blame on the University for allowing it to happen is what I have an issue with. Trauma is real and can be devastating on an individuals physical and mental health for a lifetime. In this case, the author of this letter took their personal grievances about the visit and tried to place the blame on the University. The issue at hand is trying to relate this rally and the University allowing the rental of the building to traumatic experiences that individuals have faced in their life. The two issues are apples and oranges. I get that people don't agree and don't condone the rally that happened but to place blame on the University for allowing the rental of the building (which they could not deny) and trauma that individuals have experienced in their life is not a balanced equation. Like I said before, if the author of this letter or any students believe that they can leave Greenville or ECU and find another city or University where they agree with everyone and everyone agrees with them, they are in for a rude awakening. This country is diverse and unfortunately many citizens in it have opinions that are not very nice to say the least. I stand by my prior comment that if any professor, student, or resident feels they need to leave the city or ECU because this rally was allowed to happen, then they need to "grow up." They will never find a city or University where everyone agrees. This is my "subjective and overly opinionated" reply.


Yes, I now see that the comment was posted in one huge paragraph. It was typed on my phone and it seems the system removed the paragraph format it was submitted in. I apologize in advance for the difficulty reading and following.

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