Mass shooting in Orlando: U-M experts can discuss

June 13, 2016
Contact: Greta Guest


University of Michigan experts are available to comment on the mass shooting Sunday at a nightclub in Orlando that left 50 people dead and many others wounded:

Paula Lantz, professor and associate dean at the Ford School of Public Policy, is an expert on public health policy.

“The Pulse nightclub tragedy in Orlando occurred at the intersection of a number of serious societal problems, all of which need significant, ongoing public policy attention,” she said. “This includes public policies that address hate crimes and discrimination against the LGBT community, domestic terrorism, access to automatic and semi-automatic assault weapons, and mental health services and treatment.”

Contact: 734-764-8976,

Rob Stephenson is a professor at the School of Nursing and director of the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities. His work focuses on the health of LGBT populations, with a focus on how stigma, discrimination and structural violence shape the health of sexual and gender minority individuals.

“The mass shooting of 50 individuals in a gay bar represents the confluence of two alarming trends in the United States: the continued failure to act on gun control and the continuation of anti-LGBT sentiment,” he said. “There is strong evidence that living in an environment characterized by stigma and homophobia has negative effects on physical and mental health of LGBT individuals. But Sunday’s events demonstrate an extreme form of how anti-LGBT feelings lead to disastrous actions. Gun control is clearly one avenue of action.

“But an equally important course of action is taking policy action to ensure that the rights of the LGBT community are protected. The recent slew of anti-LGBT policy—including the transgender bathroom debate in North Carolina—highlight how as a nation we have a long way to go in making sure the LGBT community is protected. Each anti-LGBT law that is passed is another gallon of fuel poured on to the simmering hatred against the gay community that has been allowed to fester for too long.”

Contact: 404-217-3509,

Juan Cole, professor of history, can discuss how Muslims are reacting to the Orlando attacks. He recently wrote on his blog Informed Comment: “What we know about Mateen so far doesn’t indicate that he was a member of a terrorist organization. If the authorities thought that he was, the crime would have been labeled international terrorism, not domestic.”

Contact: 734-764-6305,

Ethan Kross, professor of psychology and faculty associate at the Institute for Social Research, is an expert on how people control their emotions, including stress.

“This clearly represents a major stressor that victims and their families will be challenged to cope with,” he said. “Individuals struggling to do so effectively should seek assistance for their local mental health providers.”

Contact: 734-763-5640,

Sandra Graham-Bermann, professor of psychology, can discus the traumatic stress reactions in children exposed to violence.

“Witnessing people being murdered and maimed is horrific and truly traumatizing. Even hearing about such disturbing violence, such as through friends or through the news media, can be traumatic, especially for children,” she said. “This is upsetting to everyone.

“Still, some people are more clearly affected than others. Those closest to the violence, the relatives of those died, and those who responded to this mass shooting are most vulnerable. It is important to watch for symptoms of traumatic stress that do not resolve or that interfere with daily living. These can be prolonged nightmares, an inability to process feelings related to the event, and being more alert or on guard, unable to relax as before.”

Contact: 734-764-6332,

Muniba Saleem, assistant professor of communication studies, has conducted research that finds Americans who heavily rely on media for information about Muslims are more likely to have negative perceptions of and emotions toward all Muslims, even Muslim Americans. These sentiments, in turn, influence support for public policies that harm Muslims domestically and internationally.

“In regards to the specific Orlando perpetrator, media is attributing this to religious ideology which may have been significant a risk factor but so is the fact that this person was mentally unwell as suggested by his ex-wife,” she said. “It is important for media and the larger society to try to understand these severe acts of violence as perpetuated by multiple risk factors, all of which are important.”

Contact: 734-763-7349,

Julia Sonnevend, assistant professor of communication studies, researches coverage of major media events. Her current book project, “Stories Without Borders: The Making of a Global Iconic Event,” explores practices of transnational storytelling and the making of global iconic events.

Contact: 734-936-2535,

Marc Zimmerman is professor of health behavior and health education at the School of Public Health and director of the CDC-funded Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center, which focuses on violence prevention and positive youth development, resiliency and empowerment.

He conducts research on violence and delinquency among urban African-American adolescents, and on attitudes about gun violence among public health, medical and law professionals. He also directs the Prevention Research Center of Michigan.

“Not to diminish the discussions about whether this LGBT group was targeted and by whom—a person acting alone or in the name of a terrorist group—one question few people are asking is how this person got an assault weapon days before the attack?” he said. “The fact that he was on an FBI list and there were no red flags when he went to buy it, is troubling. It’s not about guns or the freedom to have them, but who needs an assault weapon?

“Those guns in the hands of nonmilitary personnel have only been used to hurt innocents. We ought to be talking about access to assault weapons. Why are they a necessary part of the right to gun ownership? We have all sorts of rights that have limits to them—fishing, driving, speech—but for some reason any limits on gun ownership is considered an infringement of our rights.”

Contact: 734-647-0224,

Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes is an associate professor of American culture, romance languages and literatures, and women’s studies. He can discuss matters pertaining to the large Puerto Rican community in Orlando, and general issues about LGBT and queer Latinas/os and Puerto Ricans.

“It is a very bittersweet, tragic moment,” he said. “Orlando is the new heart of the Puerto Rican diaspora in the United States. There are almost a million Puerto Ricans in Florida, mostly in Orlando. Most of the victims at Pulse were Puerto Rican. The confluence of such a horrific tragedy in the very midst of our community is devastating.”

Contact: 734-764-5344,

Gary Harper is a professor of health behavior and health education at the School of Public Health. He is a clinical psychologist and member of the board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest within the American Psychological Association. His research and community work focus on the development of programs to promote the health and well-being of LGBT youth and young adults.

“In the days and weeks that follow this horrific event, it is important for people to be aware of the potential for secondary traumatic stress,” he said. “This occurs when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another. This can lead some people to experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, while others may find themselves re-experiencing personal trauma or avoiding events/activities that are similar to the indirect trauma.

Secondary traumatic stress can be experienced by anyone, regardless of their connection to the traumatic event. It is important for those experiencing secondary traumatic stress to take steps to build their emotional well-being and gain a sense of control. We all need time to heal after such a traumatic event, and it’s important to seek help and support when needed.”

Contact: 734-647-9778,