“To my friend:” letter writing club pens messages to families of Squirrel Hill massacre victims

Campus Cursive brings handwritten hope to Squirrel Hill

Photo by Emily Bennett
Grace Johns and Justin McGranahan, vice president and treasurer of Campus Cursive, respectively, work on writing their letters to the Squirel Hill community following the shooting.

Written By Emily Bennett, Editor-in-Chief

Students who entered Lawrence Hall lobby last Tuesday night were directed towards a corner table spilling over with colorful stationery.

Two bags of pens rested on the table next to a thick stack of notecards, already written and ready for

The only instructions given to those entering the space were to “write like you’re writing to a friend.”

After the Squirrel Hill synagogue shooting that took 11 lives and shook Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, students from an on-campus letter writing initiative called Campus Cursive joined together and made a decision to do what they do best – write letters.

“We made a general decision about this as a club, and posted on the crisis Facebook page and said we want to spread some love in this time of darkness,” Allison Hritz, president of Campus Cursive, said about organizing the letter-writing initiative.

The club, which is an on- and off-campus movement dedicated to creating and delivering anonymous love letters to strangers in need, takes on the motto: “the world needs more love letters.”

A Point Park chapter of Campus Cursive only arrived to campus at the beginning of the Fall 2017 semester. The creators of the club have since graduated, but left behind the legacy of leaving letters in random nooks and crannies on Point Park’s campus – so anybody can pick one up and be

The club is now under the leadership of Hritz, a sophomore history major.

While the club only meets bi-weekly, it aims to create anonymous love letter bundles as well as hidden notes of encouragement across campus. The club also has plans to team up with the Campus Activities Board for future events.

Hritz, along with other members of Campus Cursive, decided to put on the letter writing event following the Squirrel Hill shooting as a way to give students the chance to give back – no matter how small it may seem to write a letter.

“I felt like the first response to this event was to immediately turn it political, and a lot of people put the fact that there were a lot of people hurting on the backburner,” Grace Johns, sophomore animation major and vice president of the club said. “I just feel it’s important to reach out to them and say that we are hurting with you, we support you and we love you.”

Hritz saw the Facebook crisis check-in page for the shooting as an opportunity to reach out to the Pittsburgh community. She created a simple post, explained who she was, and asked if anyone was interested in making a letter bundle for the victim’s families as well as the greater Squirrel Hill community.

The reaction she received exceeded her expectations.

“We got the positive reaction from the Point Park community, but also all across the state of Pennsylvania and all across the country,” Hritz said. “Even someone from New Mexico. There are people from Grove City that are getting
involved too.”

Hritz estimated around 50 people pledged to write letters strictly from the online forum, not including those who were present for the letter writing event – where, at the conclusion of the night, Campus Cursive had 79 letters in their hands.

“And counting,”
Hritz said.

The letters will be dropped off at the Squirrel Hill Community Center, and also delivered directly to the member of the Tree of Life synagogue, where the shooting took place.

Students filed in and out throughout the one hour block last Tuesday, sitting cross-legged on the floor or propping their textbooks against their knees to use as a makeshift desk for writing.

The atmosphere appeared somber, and students were mostly quiet as they focused on their letters with furrowed brows.

“I’ve been writing in sadness about what happened and telling them we’re not going to let this slip by,” Sara Buchhdahl, freshman theater arts and performances major, said. “I want to bring some hope that things will change and also letting them know that the Jewish community as a whole is here
for them.”

Buchdahl, originally from the D.C. area, is devoted to her Jewish faith. Her grandfather is a rabbi, and she considers being Jewish an “integral” part of who she is.

Buchdahl said an incident she viewed as so local to her college quickly moved to an international issue, and that following the shooting, she even heard from her family and friends in Israel.

“It was a lot of fear and anger in the beginning, and now it’s just kind of sadness,” Buchdahl expressed. “That, and what can we do now?”

Buchdahl heard about the letter writing event through Facebook, and although she isn’t a member of the club, she decided she wanted to contribute to spreading messages of positivity, especially because she felt it was hard to make the trip to Squirrel Hill.

“I think that definitely spreading messages of love and peace is going to be important,” Buchdahl said. “And I think that this is a great opportunity to get people involved. For a lot of people, it’s hard in the middle of the week to try and get over to Squirrel Hill for all of the vigils, and so this is a good opportunity for us to take some step.”

Junior animation major Manuel Maysonet discovered the event through a discord server that animation majors communicate through.

After Johns posted about the effort in the server, Maysonet decided to attend. He expressed that sadness and anger were part of the reasons why he showed up to create a handwritten note.

“Honestly, the moment that I heard about this shooting, I was really angry and just thought – another one,” Maysonet said. “In all serious, I thought, another one. And right here in Pittsburgh. All just because of one guy who had so much hate in his heart.”

While Maysonet saw the letter writing event as effective on a small scale, he expressed that he sees it as necessary in order for something much bigger to take place.

“There are small things happening, but is anything major happening to stop this? Now, at this current moment, no,” Maysonet said. “I feel that there is time for sadness and there is time to grieve, but we have to do be doing something to make sure to stop this or to make it happen to a lesser degree.”

Although he expressed he has strong views about making these changes, as he worked on his letter, Maysonet said he wanted to approach the reader with comfort.

“A bit somber, but I want to keep it comforting,” Maysonet said. “Just letting them know that I don’t know what they’ve been through or what they currently are going through, but I just want to tell them that they’re not alone. The city of Pittsburgh has your back. If you need something, the city is here.”