Friday, October 8, 2010

Student with a Gun

Safety in the classroom is an important issue to me.  I have no idea why it has become so important.  I haven't ever directly experienced an incident of campus violence.

When I was in graduate school, I heard the left-over rumors about a graduate student who had a confrontation with his thesis advisor.  He poured cyanide into a coke can, chugged it, and died on the couch in his advisor's office.  Cyanide is a very painful way to die.  He was a chemistry student, he would have known this.  So would his advisor.  He must have hated that man.  (He didn't do it in his advisor's office, that's just the romanticized version I heard.)

When I became a college professor, when I began teaching courses required for entry into very competitive selective admission programs, I began to experience student anxiety to a very large degree.  I was on the selective admission committee, and once was notified by the Nursing faculty that an emotionally unstable student was released from the program, and had threatened to come back and kill all her teachers.  I had been her anatomy professor, and I was teaching that afternoon in a classroom that had been (sortof) constructed out of the old maintenance room.  It was in an underground part of the building with no windows and only one way into or out of the room.  I taught lab with the door locked that day.

I heard stories of violence on campus.  I had been to Louisiana to interview for a high-level administrative position at one of the universities.  A few days after returning home, I heard the story that a nursing student walked into her classroom and shot at people.  The instructor hid behind the podium.  She was mad at a test grade.  The next day I walked into my class and looked around.  How many of these people were capable of something like that?  Where are all the room exits?  What would I do if a student started shooting?  Would I duck for my life, or would I shield the female student that always sits in the front row who was seven months pregnant?

Then came Virginia Tech, and colleges across the country changed the way they dealt with campus shooters.  Our state community college system, my employer, implemented an immediate alert system, a classroom alert system, and hired new positions for security advisors.

I am the Chairperson of my college's Health and Safety committee.  I had this position at my previous college, so when I transferred, the Dean thought I would bring good experience to the position at this college.  I attended a safety conference over the summer whose theme was Safety In The Classroom, and the underlying message was "not if, but when, one of our colleges experiences an event."

We have purchased a video for students to inform them of ways to react when there is an active shooter situation.  I have changed the way I walk through campus, looking for exits and wondering "what if".

Today another incident, not tragic, a little close to home.  A student at the local university pulled out a gun in a meeting.  The faculty grabbed it, the incident was over.

I have a thousand thoughts swirling around.  The College of Education is where my master's degree program is, by the way.  I haven't yet heard if my professor was in that meeting. 

I went through graduate school.  It was tough, and that's an understatement.  It was the hardest thing I have ever done.  It was grueling, it was mentally and emotionally taxing, other students dropped out, and I wouldn't have been able to do it if I had any other responsibilities.  I got married while I was in grad school and I got divorced a year and a half later.  I had a "disagreement" with my first faculty advisor, who called me into her office and told me that she was kicking me out of her lab, she was recommending that I be kicked out of the program, and that she didn't think I was capable of getting my Ph.D.  I then ended up in the lab of a man of middle eastern descent who thought that women should do his bidding and thought he was getting a cheap research assistant in taking on a graduate student.  We had a confrontation one day that ended with us screaming down a hallway at each other.  I finally clawed my way, with the help of a benevolent committee member, through all the requirements, and defended my dissertation.

I know that it's hard.  I know that college is tough, and there is alot at stake.  Trust me, I understand this.

But I never pulled out a gun.  I never sought violence against myself or the faculty.  I picked up the pieces and I went on.

I know what it means to be out of your mind stressed.  I know what it means to lay on the floor with a textbook and read it over and over and over again and not understand a word of it.  I know what it's like to sit in a classroom with a person whose first language is not English, and whose teaching skills are nil, but because they can practice medicine, someone put them in control of your class.  I know what it's like to have one exam that the rest of your life depends on.  In my case, it was a written qualifying exam, over the first two years of coursework of my graduate program.  It was 15 essay questions that you had 8 hours to complete.  I try not to throw that in the face of my students when they think my piddly multiple choice test is hard.

But I never pulled out a gun.

I thought I had a point, but I'm not getting around to it. 

I remember the perspective of the student, I live the persepective of the faculty.  I used to be an administrator, and I work with the people in charge of safety at my college.  I see lots of different sides to these issues.

But I still don't understand why someone thinks that pulling out a gun can solve anything.

1 comment:

Esperanza said...

This is why my husband, who is an attorney, works with a non-profit that supports gun violence prevention. Because you never know who will get their hands on a gun and what they'll do with it. It's terrifying.