On a Friday afternoon in December, Lee Pelton was driving home with his 13-year-old daughter in the passenger seat when radio reports of the Newtown school massacre forced him over to side of the road.
"I held her hand as we listened ... and we both cried," said Pelton, the president of Boston's Emerson College. "We're both struggling with how could this have happened, why it happened? Those are the things we talked about. We didn't have answers. But I knew at that moment I was going to do something."
Overnight, the answer of just what to do began to crystallize. The next day, Pelton sent a long email to all of the college's 4,500 students and 1,500 faculty and staff. Together they would "seek to make sense of the senseless," he wrote, by launching a probing discussion of gun violence in which all sides would listen to one another and search for solutions. The unresolved question: Given the fierce divide and raw emotions that surround the debate over guns, is that kind of conversation even possible?
Pelton decided it wasn't enough to search for the answer at his college alone. He wrote an open letter to President Barack Obama and more than 280 other university and college presidents signed on, pledging to launch debate about the issues surrounding guns on their own campuses.