Isla Vista Rampage: Has Higher Ed Dropped the Ball, Again?

Updated May 29, 2014

On Memorial Day, we think of the young we have sent out for generations to legitimate battles and who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.

But this holiday we realize our freedoms come at a cost at home too.

Elliot Rodger, the suspected Isla Vista shooter, reminds us that every day in America has become a war whether we know it or not. With the unfettered access to own a firearm for the home, or in some cases carry a gun in person, patriotic zealots have misread the Constitution and turned modern domestic life into a war zone.

And when young adults with real problems like Rodger get a hold of guns and see them as therapeutic, we are all in trouble.

Rodger, a student at Santa Barbara City College, was a 22-year-old self-professed virgin who was obsessed and despairing over his continued rejection by blondes from sororities at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

This should not be the reason for mass murder.

It is, however, a reason for something too often left out of the conversation in higher ed.

What about our students’ mental states?

Are we so obsessed with housing and feeding, and the filling of brains with words, numbers and ideas, that we forget that they are also human beings too?

Young, impressionable ones, at that.

The first line of defense in society may well be our schools and colleges.

But is higher ed doing enough?

Or is it so under siege from all sides of the coin, literally and figuratively, that there is no time, no money, no will to take a simple thing as basic hospitality seriously?

That has a lot more to do with mental health issues than not getting an A in math.

And, of course, it’s all tied in to diversity.

If we value a diverse student body by trying to get diverse people into the school in the first place, do schools truly attempt to make them feel at home?

Rodger was also half-Asian and felt isolated, lonely, unloved.

You’d expect in a diverse place like California, a half-Asian would feel more at home.

Maybe no one bothered to ask. It was taken for granted.

But his manifesto is a 140-page thesis on the ineffectiveness of higher ed’s student outreach.

“But it was a community college” is not a good response.

If we are going to let the gun zealots enable young adults like Rodger, higher ed better realize it has a greater role than it thinks. Higher ed must realize it’s on watch.

It’s been seven years since the Virginia Tech incident that claimed 33 lives, known as the deadliest rampage in U.S. history.

We are no better off if it can happen again so easily.

The gun zealots have turned the home-front into a constant, potential battleground. Every day can be a memorial day.

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.aaldef.org/blog) Like him at www.facebook.com/emilguillermo.media; twitter@emilamok