I’ve taught English at a community college for ten years. I wasn’t always afraid. But ever since the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, fear has become an undeniable feature of my work life.
Last week I didn’t learn about the shootings at Umpqua Community College until the very end of the day because I was busy on my own campus, preparing for and teaching a writing class. In my car, after picking up my two-year-old from the care center on the campus where I work, I put on NPR and expected the usual weary commute home. Instead, I learned that nine people had been killed in a neighboring state, at a campus not unlike my own.
I spent the next forty-eight hours or so dwelling on how common these incidents (or variations of them) have become, and how little control I have around whether or not such violence will directly touch my world.
I wrote about these thoughts in an essay for the Washington Post On Parenting blog.
On Thursday, in response to the tragedy at Umpqua Community College, President Obama gave a speech in which he claimed that Americans have become “numb” to the violence of mass shootings.
I am a parent to two young children who also teaches at a community college three hundred miles north of Roseburg, and for the last several years—ever since reports of public shootings have cycled through the news with stunning regularity—I haven’t been numb, I’ve been afraid. At the beginning of each school quarter, I find myself scanning my classroom, wondering if any of my students are dangerous. I find myself watching the door when I work late in my office, wondering how I might react if a disgruntled student hunted me down. I find that I often move through my workday in a low-level state of alert. Though I never intended to choose a career that might put my life in danger, I worry daily that my sons could lose a parent.
And of course, I worry about my children’s safety, too. Every morning when I use a magnetic card to open the door to my 2-year-old’s daycare center or every time I sign myself into my older son’s first-grade classroom, I can’t help but remember the scenarios that have made such security measures necessary.
You can read the full essay here.