Well, another campus has been visited with death and destruction.
Six Five innocent students dead (so far) and fifteen sixteen wounded, including the graduate student instructor. When I wrote the post Where can I get a high-fashion kevlar vest? last Friday morning, I was a bit prankish in tone at the end. I should probably clarify my position: I don’t actually think faculty and students should arm themselves for combat when going to class. I’m outraged at the crazy right-wing gun nuts whose response to the Virginia Tech murders was “well, those wimpy students should have armed themselves so that they could take the shooter down.” I think there’s nothing more destructive of creating a mutually respectful culture of learning than these murders and the chorus of gun nuts who believe that more guns in classrooms is the answer. My suggestion that people should “start packing heat, if that’s your style,” was more an expression of frustration at our political culture’s inability to ensure our safety in schools and universities than a clarion call for faculty to “lock’n'load.”
One of my hooks for that post was that I saw little if any discussion about gender in the mainstream media analyses of these mass shootings–which is strange, because they are overwhelmingly committed by boys and men, and you know if they were mostly committed by women, that would be considered a very notable fact. In the comments to that post, Nick corrected me gently and pointed out that sociologist Michael Kimmel has written about masculinity and gender issues in these mass shootings. His article, “Adolescent Masculinity, Homophobia, and Violence“ (2003) analyzes junior high and high-school shootings from 1982-2001, and makes a persuasive case that gender is clearly an issue in the 1990s school shootings, as he found that “nearly all had stories of being constantly bullied, beaten up, and, most significantly for this analysis, ‘gay-baited,’” (p. 1445), not because they were gay, but because they didn’t conform to a particular performance of masculinity. I’m not sure that his analysis is entirely useful for understanding the more recent mass-shootings of the 2000s, which appear to involve older perpetrators (men in their late teens and early 20s, instead of school-age boys) engaged in more random attacks (in Salt Lake City, Virginia Tech, Omaha, Denver/Colorado Springs, and now Northern Illinois University. Mind you–that’s just the random mass shootings that have occured in the last year, from February 12, 2007 to February 14, 2008!) Still, it’s a solid and accessible academic article that attempts to grapple with the overwhelming fact that troubled boys and men are much more prone to pick up guns than girls and women are.
What the hell kind of country is this? Is there really no way to 1) divest ourselves of gun worship and home arsenals, 2) strictly limit firearms access to stable, mentally healthy people, and 3) screen for and identify potentially troubled students who might be prone to violence? (Knitting Clio asks, relative to point #3, ”Why do the responses to such shootings never include increasing funding for mental health services to students?” She is right–mental health services should not be restricted just to identifying and eliminating potentially violent students. They should get treatment, too.) Why isn’t this a bigger priority in our politics? Is the big, bad gun lobby really more terrifying than seeing another episode of mass carnage in the newspaper? Really? Think of the hundreds–hundreds–of parents who are grieving and bereft now because their children went to school or college, like their parents hoped they would, and went to class like they were supposed to.
If you’re interested, here is some information on women’s Kevlar vests. They range in price from $380-$549, so it’s not a trivial investment, but I’m not ruling it out. I’m starting to think that faculty should organize to demand them in their benefits packages–a one-time purchase that’s surely less expensive than running a search to replace a dead colleague.