We’re Not Numb; We’re Desperate

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.


  1. A heartfelt essay. Excellent. I believe it is so important that you have spoken up.

    For me it is concern for my Grandchildren attending school. When I heard about the shooting in Oregon and hearing the words ‘normal’ and ‘routine’ being bantered about in connection to the continuing number of civilian shootings in the US, it just chilled me. Began looking for some facts, and what I found was worse than I expected:


    Your words are powerful. Thank you for speaking up.

  2. Did you hear the NPR story about how Australia initiated background checks, voluntary gun buy-backs, and assault rifle bans in something like ’96? They haven’t had a mass shooting since then. Why don’t they talk more about THAT on the news??

    And I know what you mean about being frightened at school. I taught high school and was very fearful those last years before I retired. It’s such a frustrating thing to feel so helpless faced when faced with the NRA and all their money and political clout.

  3. Congrats, Jenn on yet another WP piece. and for articulating so beautifully your feelings as a mother and a teacher. I am not a mom and i think part of my reluctance toward it has been because of all the dangers that seem to be lurking out there these days for young kids- violence infiltrating the classroom is something I have thought about. I know that’s not a good reason not to procreate- but it definitely has given me pause.

    • Yes, I understand that. Gun violence and climate change are two topics especially that make me genuinely concerned for my children’s future, to the extent that it’s hard for me to be present with those topics / realities for any extended period of time.

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