Here we go again with another mass shooting, this time on the campus of Umpqua Community College, where nine people were killed by a gunman, a fellow student. After that incident, going back to teach class last Tuesday at my own community college, I was fraught with anxiety. On the surface, my day was nothing special. I taught “The Essay” to my Intro to Academic Writing classes, got a flu shot at lunch, and avoided a union meeting. But after the Umpqua CC massacre, after threats to Philly-area colleges on Monday, everyone seemed on edge. Teaching for me and attending classes for my students felt like a shared but unspoken act of defiance. We were playing the odds, of course—we are far more likely to be killed in a car accident on the way to school than by an active shooter on our campus. But I felt vulnerable and uneasy all day and coming to campus as usual was anything but usual. I couldn’t stop thinking that my classroom doors don’t lock from the inside and open outward, rendering it incapable of being barricaded if the (not) unthinkable happens. It makes me crazy to think I don’t have a chance to protect my students or myself at all in the (extremely unlikely) event we have an active shooter on campus. In response to the online threat of violence to Philadelphia-area colleges and universities on Monday, the advice we were given was to “be aware of our surroundings” and “report suspicious activity.” Advice like that makes for a pretty distracted teaching and learning day.
When Josh and I went to see Trainwreck last month and had settled into our seats, we were relaxed and eager to enjoy the Amy Schumer comedy we had heard so many good things about. And we did enjoy it…eventually. But not until after the theater treated us to a video on safety, which warns patrons to be on the lookout for “suspicious characters” with “bad agendas.” Unsettled, I turned to Josh after the safety video ended and whispered, “I wasn’t nervous before we sat down, but I sure am now.” I can’t even go see a comedy in a movie theater without being forced to think about how helpless we truly are.
Being told that we need to be constantly on the lookout for suspicious characters only ramps up the anxiety and powerlessness we feel, especially in light of the fact that we can’t seem to pass laws to help prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands. Is a movie theater or college campus any less safe than a mall or a park? No. And our unease in public spaces will continue to grow until we find a better solution than just being aware of our surroundings. Because quite frankly, we’re no less safe, so I’ll continue to live my life. I will show up to class, go to the movies, enjoy a concert in the park with my family, and walk my dog in my neighborhood.