The rampant, random, unexpected mass gun violence is happening with regularity now. I am like most everyone else with a heart and a head… I just don’t know what to say anymore, especially since they seem to be happening every few months (or weeks). It seems that each instance shocks us to our cores, but then we are emotionally rebounding more quickly each time. We are becoming jaded. We are becoming blase. I read a quote earlier today that said something along the lines of “the war on gun violence was lost when Americans decided the deaths of young children were bearable” (source unknown, but tell me if you have it). That’s bleak. That’s probably true.
I will always remember a more innocent time before this type of random violence became the norm.
April 2007, I was teaching an art history writing class spring quarter.
Very early in the quarter, a UW staff member was murdered in her office in the Architecture Building on campus. She was a domestic violence survivor who was killed by her stalking abuser. My officemate and I learned of the shooting by a breaking news story on one of our computers… not through security or any other alert system. I don’t remember an alert system even existing on campus yet.
Then about twelve days later, Virginia Tech happened.
Again, we learned about it via a breaking news story on one of our computers. I don’t remember exactly what facts were known by the time we each had to leave to teach our afternoon classes, but what we did read shook us both to our cores. I know that there was a lot of gasping, mouth covering, tearing up… what we were reading was perhaps the most horrific domestic news story to date since 9/11. Time for class!
While the story of 32 students and faculty being gunned down on the east coast was unfolding, I walked into my west coast classroom and put on my best brave face in front of my 40 or so students (might have been less than that due to spring fever skipping). We all tried to conduct business as usual, but no one really wanted to discuss the artwork of the day. After about ten minutes of awkward “how you doin’?” banter, one student finally asked the question everyone was thinking, including me.
What do we do if?
This was 2007. Campuses didn’t have the “active shooter” emergency procedures and protocols they do now. Isn’t it sad that campuses and schools have even had to come up with “active shooter” emergency procedures and protocols? Isn’t it sad that in 2015 even my friends who teach elementary school have to practice “active shooter” emergency procedures and protocols?
Because our campus had just experienced a gun death less than two weeks earlier, and perhaps to make my students feel better, we went through the exercise of analyzing the room and its furniture. What do we do if? We looked at the single non-locking door, the arm-desk chairs, the single four legged table, the third story windows. What do we do if?
For the remainder of my teaching career at the UW and SU, I found myself going through the mental exercise with each new classroom. What do we do if?
In 2007, the questions were “can it and will it happen again?” Now the questions are “where and when?” I cannot even begin to imagine what it is like on campuses now.
We should all be afraid and ashamed.