I wrote this Tuesday afternoon, but it’s taken me most of the week to really get my thoughts together on this one.
As I’ve said before, I work at a community college. So any news of violence in schools has always been exceptionally scary and sad. I’d shake my head, wondering what gets into these people, and why they decide that a school is the right place to express their rage. I grieved for the innocent lives endangered or lost. And I wondered what I would do in such a situation.
A few months ago, I found out.
Toward the end of January, there was a shooting incident at my campus. I wasn’t in the thick of things; there was the sudden sound of lots of people running toward an exit upstairs and a coworker came to my desk and said, “We’re supposed to get out. Now.” We rounded up everyone in the office and headed outside, where we were herded to the exterior parking lots. The whole time, I was trying to call out on my cell phone or text my friends and family to let them know I was alright or to get on the internet and find out what exactly was going on, but the cell tower was overloaded with thousands of people trying to do the same. It wasn’t until SWAT teams started showing up that we got a text message saying if we could leave safely we should get off campus. So I got in my car and left.
It wasn’t until afterward that I found out what had happened. It was NOT an active shooter; two guys got in a fight and one pulled a gun. There WERE injured bystanders, one of whom was a fellow employee. It WAS intensely confusing during the event, and downright terrifying in hindsight. We had dance rehearsal that night, and during an acting exercise I burst into tears, finally breaking through the shock almost six hours later. None of us went to work that day thinking anything like that might happen. The employee who was wounded certainly didn’t think he’d get shot in the leg just doing his job.
The weeks that followed at work were filled with forums, safety meetings, and invitations to speak with counselors. Emergency loud speakers were installed; students and staff alike were encouraged to sign up for the mobile emergency alert system. Steps are being taken to increase cell service in the older buildings. We were shaken by our little incident, but we carry on.
We are here to educate, to enrich lives with knowledge and skill. We shouldn’t have to put our lives on the line to do that.
Unfortunately, events continue to demand that we do.
Tuesday morning, someone came into the office asking, “Have you heard what’s happening?” There was much scouring of news sites and emergency alert texts, emails, and phone calls in the next few minutes. One of our sister campuses was on lockdown after a suspected stabbing. There were ever increasing reports of victims, ending with fourteen people injured and the suspect in custody.
Safe at our campus across town, my coworkers and I kept refreshing our news sites of choice for updates. We let our friends know via social media that we were not at the campus in question. We joked about it, trying to keep things light, while inside our hearts were breaking for friends and strangers whose fear and confusion we knew a little too well.
And I was reminded of the outrage in my soul.
Why do things like this keep happening? What makes someone that angry? The most violence to which I’ve ever resorted was hitting my brother in the arm with a shoe. I can’t begin to fathom what would make someone bring a weapon to school with them, much less use it against another person. That fourteen, FOURTEEN people reported injuries from this one event—I still can’t wrap my head around it.
I was in the eighth grade when the first of these horrible tragedies happened in Colorado. I didn’t understand it then, and I still can’t understand it now. Maybe I’m a soft heart. Maybe I’m a naïve soul. But I just can’t imagine what makes one person decide to hurt another.
I couldn’t focus on my work. My mind was filled with gratitude for our police, who knowingly and willingly go into their jobs every day despite the dangers; with worry for those who’ve been injured; with selfish relief that it didn’t happen here; with disbelief that it was happening at all.
With my own anger that these things keep happening, and yet so little is done to stop them before they start.
I’m not talking about gun control, or violence in entertainment or video games. I AM talking about our culture’s tolerance for violence and neglect of mental health. I don’t think these things will stop so long as domestic violence, rape, and abuse persist. So long as perpetrators are allowed to blame or shame their victims and meet even marginal support from the populous. So long as these things are seen as a mere part of human nature instead of what they are: acts of hate. So long as care for the mind remains a luxury for those who can afford it. So long as there is stigma attached to seeking the help of a therapist or counselor.
People like me should not have to be afraid to go to work, to fear for our personal safety simply so education can be made available to the public. But until we as a culture embrace the old adage that violence is not the answer, until we realize that the health of our minds is just as if not more important than that of our bodies, no amount of policy will stop it.