Confusion. Alarm. Fear. All these words came to mind yesterday around 4:25 p.m. when my colleagues and I first heard rumors about a stabbing on campus. These rumors quickly morphed from a stabbing incident to a shooting. I could hear students in the hallway speculating on what happened. Also, I received a first-hand account from a neighboring professor who witnessed the victim staggering out the student union bleeding. As I prepared to leave my office to start my 5:30 course, caution was in my mind, but overwhelmingly I was concerned. Were any of my students hurt? Were any professors struck by bullets? Was the shooter still on the loose? And what was the motive? All of these things rang through my head as I hurriedly gathered my materials for class.
After descending to the first floor, university officials were stationed at the door's entryway. They told us the university was 'on lockdown,' and the shooter had not been apprehended. Among the many things swirling in my mind, true fear set in. My hands began to sweat and students trapped in the lobby had worry in their eyes. Let's face it, it was precisely two days after the anniversary of September 11th, and we had little-to-no real details about this shooting. I lived through the 9/11 attack in Manhattan, and suddenly realized I had survived another terror. The sad thing was: this terror attack was internal.
Although this shooting was not perpetrated by a student, nor was the victim attending school here at Morgan, the violence still happened on a college campus. That in itself is bothersome. This is an all-too-frequent occurrence within the academic setting. It is only two months after the Aurora shooting was perpetrated by a Ph.D dropout, Virginia Tech still lurks somewhere in our collective memories, and of course the Columbine nightmare never permanently leaves our tongues. It's one thing to be scared in a supposed 'bad neighborhood' or to 'feel unsafe' in dark alleys and streets. It's quite another to think about institutions of higher learning harboring gun-toting imbeciles. This should be a safe haven where ideas are the primary cultural capital, and minds of tomorrow are being molded. Americans, make no mistake, gun violence permeates the very fabric of this country and is becoming a recurring nightmare at academic institutions. As one who makes my living teaching literature and creative writing, I am devastated by the increasing rate of college campus shootings. I used to think my occupation would always keep the threat of bodily harm at bay, but no more. Now more than ever I am scared for myself, and the future of American students who dream of attending college in a safe environment.
I don't know where else to place the blame other than gun control. The ease in which one can buy a gun is beyond disturbing. And when we examine the facts about gun control in most states, we realize it is usually easier to buy a gun than it is to get a state ID. The purchase of a handgun or 'assault weapon' in the state of Maryland requires only a $10 fee, an application and a seven-day waiting period to get approved. No fingerprints required.
As a woman of color, I cannot ignore the fact that the majority of these shootings are predominantly perpetrated by men. I wonder what the future holds for my pre-teen nephews who will someday be grown men raised in this society. They are affected, as we all are, by media and pop culture. I want them to grow up in a world that rebels against gun violence. Instead, America almost appears to condone it. Just do a quick survey of our pop culture terrain. Everything from music videos to video games glorifies violence (and particularly gun violence) at every turn. There is a certain bravado associated with male violence that is both disturbing and intrinsic. Truth is, men relate to guns. The longevity of this theme continues to be replicated in television, movies and literature. And while we can't change the societal association or relationship to guns, we can change the way gun commerce is controlled.
Yesterday as I sat in my office, typing a 'class cancelled' e-mail to my students, I began to search my mind for solutions that won't be easy or obvious. This issue is one with multiple layers and delicate nuances that will take time and deliberation to sift through. Ultimately, I'm hoping that these incidents will put the issue of gun control at the forefront of America's presidential debate. Progression, in every sense of the word, is what I as an American yearn for. However, I feel saddened by an America plagued with young people who feel the need to carry weapons at institutions of higher learning. Those rattle my cerebrum when I telephone my nephews to talk about football practice, or their latest Spanish class. I know they are growing up with the ideal America budding in their hearts. And even if nothing is truly 'ideal,' they at least deserve a world where we are all working towards gun control laws that reflect our intolerance of senseless violence. And the 2012 election is precisely the time to address and put emphasis on this issue. I want safety for my nephews, myself, and the world. We all want to live in an America where pursuing a college degree isn't dangerous. And because I'm a nerd in the truest sense, I can't help but look to the words of a poet I love while writing this essay. I guess I just truly long for Langston Hughes's sentiment of "let America be America again, let it be the dream it used to be."
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