The anxiety over guns in campus life has been a reality since the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. But what do we do as a society except wait for another incident to happen?
Texas Southern in Houston. Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Delta State in Mississippi. Three new additions to higher ed’s dishonor roll highlighting the places where gun violence has shattered the image of academic tranquility.
By my count, there have been seven such instances this year. And as shocking as that number sounds, it’s actually lower than the 17 times guns were a major issue on campus in 2014.
So, problem solved, right?
To get a perspective from the classroom, I contacted a former colleague of mine at NPR, Benjamin Davis. During my tenure in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Davis was one of the leading African-American journalists in America.
Just this semester, the career newsman made the leap to his new full-time role as an assistant professor at California State University, Northridge.
We carried on this conversation by email. But it’s just a beginning of a conversation we all should be having right now:
You are a journalist turned academic; did you expect anything like this when you transitioned where you as a college professor potentially could be the news?
Since about 2004 I have talked to my students about active-shooter scenarios. When I made my full transition from news into the academy I never expected active shooters to be a major concern while teaching.
I took it seriously after a former student from Rutgers told me, “Professor Davis, if you ever see me on campus, run fast in the opposite direction.”
What do you think of Dr. Ben Carson’s statement about armed guards in classrooms?
I do not want armed guards in the classroom. I don’t think any type of weapon should have a presence in a learning environment. I support guns on campus under the authority of campus police. But allowing students and or teachers bring in guns for protection can create major issues. Imagine a professor and student getting involved in a disagreement which happens often. The convenience of a gun makes escalation to violence much easier. Also there is a serious fear that a person not routinely trained in gun usage could harm innocent people instead of a shooter.
As a teacher are you doing things differently after Umpqua?
Actually, before Umpqua, I had gunmen talks with my classes. But after Umpqua I became much more active in checking for locked doors.
What should be the proper response for schools? For teachers? More security?
Schools need a system that prepares students and professors, rather just hoping a tragedy never comes their way. Preparation should be universal on campus involving staff, faculty and students. We need to be told exactly the best methods for dealing with a gunman. Run? Wait for police, hunker down, fight the gunman?
Unfortunately, schools especially colleges are not moving fast enough implementing self-protection schemes for students and faculty. More security can simply mean a faster response time to the classroom. That is good, but the problem with a gunman is he or she is already at the classroom threshold ready to do harm. A faster response time will not alleviate that problem. Having armed guards outside the classroom or near the classroom is an academic distraction on every level plus it would be impossible to conduct such a policy because of costs.
Teachers have a very strong paternal/maternal instinct over their students. We would immediately rush to help them while placing our own safety secondary. For that reason, at least, teachers should be prepared by universities to react to danger in the classroom.
Is anyone scared to go to classes in your school after Umpqua?
Like most young people my students seem to think they are invulnerable to many circumstances. Umpqua reminded them that someone can sneak up on them and that is terrifying. Normally the threat of violence doesn’t exist if it isn’t in their faces. Umpqua changed that. But my students have shown appreciation for the guidance I give them if they are ever caught in a gunman situation. I don’t think they care if I am giving good or bad advice. No one has ever told them what to do in such a situation. What matters to them, I think, is that I am saying think and be prepared, have some type of plan in your head. [They often respond,] “Thanks professor for giving us something to work with.”
It is so sad, but active-shooter violence has become a staple of American life. I think it is cruel and selfish not to better prepare our young people for the possibility of facing an active shooter.
A former adjunct professor in communications, Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist and commentator for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. (https://www.aaldef.org/blog/)