Saturday, April 21, 2007

For Today, We are all Hokies

Monday our world was made a much sadder place. I have not really been able to write about it yet, I will probably only muddle my way through this now, but I will try.

I have had to quit watching much news, my morning routine because I am filled with unimaginable sadness. The pictures of the students, the faculty, and the campus is all too familiar to me. What I see is my students, my colleagues, my campus. I think all of us that spend our days on a campus feel like this right now. In the middle of class I have to stop and catch my breath as I look over my students, I know I would be devastated to lose any of them. Worse I have sat in class thinking about how I would barricade the door, where the safest place to stand was, and how we could get out of a window. The good news is that none of this has stopped me from going to class; it has just made me more wary. I wonder if that is a good or bad thing. I don’t want to have to work on conjecture about what student might just lose it. Unfortunately the stories from VT are not that surprising. I have worked and attended more that a few colleges, from community to large Universities and the protocols are all pretty much the same. There are never enough police or security employed by the school. And to be fair, a college campus is one of the safest places that you could be on a day to day basis, so it is not strange that one of the places that are cut in a budget crisis is security. And problems on campus are usually not advertised because colleges fear that parents will yank students, so the administration of VT is was not abnormal in their decisions, they were actually very normal. I can hope that one of the good things to come out of this tragedy is that we can rethink the kinds of security that we need on campus. Right now there is no way to lockdown a campus, it’s actually impossible because campuses are made to be accessible to students and if they are public schools, the land is public property which means the campus is open to anyone. Schools actually look at ways to make the campus more accessible to students, not less. Buildings are often old, used for aesthetics or efficiency, not safety. Doors to classrooms open out, not in, which often could be a fire hazard. And classrooms are set up logistically for the best way to educate, not safety. Much of this can change and much of this should not change. Campuses need to be open and accessible for students, but they also need to be patrolled more. We have to understand that when you have a lot of people congregated in one place there may be fights or problems and they should be handled, but they should also be reported. If there is an incident with a weapon, we as faculty need to know about it. We can be notified much more easily then students can and if the situation is taken care of we can stall rumors, but if it is not we can make decisions about what we expect from our students and ourselves. I can’t pretend to know all that goes into logistic and security decisions fro a university, after all I am just an English professor, but I do know that I love my job and all of my students are precious to all of us, even if we sometimes complain about them. So I do know that we need to discuss these problems and make some changes and that needs to be done soon.

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