American Culture

What should – or could — I do?

“A man with a gun walks into my classroom.”

If you’re a teacher or professor, you’ve probably wondered how you would respond, especially now in the wake of the murders at Virginia Tech.

I teach journalism at a rural, private Catholic university. It’s only natural that following the killings, I’d ask my students what they, as student journalists, should work on at my university this week for the student newspaper.

The students proposed story ideas. “Could it happen here?” “How did students here react?” “Did anyone here know people at Virginia Tech?” (Several did.) “Does the university have a crisis-response plan? What is it? Is it adequate?” “What about local police? State police?” (We’re rural.)

They wondered what the university’s public relations people should be doing: “They should be prepared to talk with parents who ask if our university is safe.”

Then they asked me, if the gunman came, “What would you do?” I said:

“I don’t know. God, I don’t know. But I do know this: I hope, at 61 years old, that the lifetime I have spent increasing the range of appropriate responses to situations will tell me what to do.

“That’s what growing up is — adding to your stock of appropriate responses. I just hope that somewhere in my stock is the right thing to do to protect you.”

In reflection, my response seems so inadequate. By the time the gunman gets inside my classroom, so many other things had to have gone terribly, horribly wrong.

How did he (or she) get on campus? Into my building? What triggered him? So many questions that would need to be answered.

As so many commentators have said, universities are open societies. They must be for free thought to prosper. Yet the realities of human frailty abound on campuses. They are, after all, large communities with all the public-safety issues of towns and cities.

When the gunman gets into my classroom, I’ll be the last barrier between him and my students.

I suppose I could blame my university. “Why hasn’t it prepared me for this? Where’s the workshop for faculty on how to deal with any possible uncommon occurrence – especially the guy with the gun in my classroom?”

But the truth is that bad things happen, all other enabling factors aside. My university could no more prepare me for a gunman in my classroom than I could prepare my parents for a home invasion.

All I have is age and what it’s brought me so far — for better or worse. I hope it would be enough.

Categories: American Culture

3 replies »

  1. I don’t think anyone really knows how they’ll react to trauma and tragedy until it’s upon them. All we can do is have the courage to act and the smarts to know when not to, and the rest will be decided by fate and judged by history.

  2. I don’t know what I would have done in this particular situation. I’d like to think that I would have done something to stop the shooter, but I frankly don’t know.

    I’ve got something of a morbid imagination, and so I have worked through what I would do under a variety of unpleasant circumstances (intruder in my home, someone attacking my family, those kinds of things). And I’ve thought them out in advance so that, if one of those circumstances does ever occur, I won’t hesitate, I won’t have to think about it, I’ll just do what I decided to do months or years earlier.

    I think it may be time to add another circumstance to think through….

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