– Crosby, Stills & Nash, ‘Raise a Voice’
Northern Arizona University. Texas Southern University. Umpqua Community College. Community College of Philadelphia.
What do students of these four schools have in common?
They all experienced some form of gun violence on their campuses within the past week.
St. Joe’s students were given a taste of this fear this past week, after discovering a threat on the site 4Chan directed at “Philadelphia area schools” posted over the weekend. It spoke of a “beta uprising” that had begun on the West Coast would continue on the East on Monday.
I’ll admit, none of it seemed too frightening at first; if we believed every empty threat that came out of 4Chan, we’d be living locked away in our rooms in constant fear – which, really, is exactly what they’d like us to do. It was equal parts utterly unbelievable and uncomfortably surreal.
But then again, at that point last week there had already been 146 school shootings counted this year (we’re now up to 149 shootings for 2015 alone). The shooting in Oregon was still fresh in students’ collective consciousness. As much as we adore the city of Philadelphia, we all understand that it isn’t the safest of places; it wouldn’t be entirely improbable for a gunman to find his way onto a campus charged with feelings of camaraderie and Christianity.
Soon, it was all over the news: stories of Philadelphia schools adding legions of police and security officers to monitor campuses; of the FBI’s involvement; of trying to decipher the cryptic threat; of students who spoke about being afraid to go to their classes, but felt their professors might penalize them if they stayed home.
My housemates and I didn’t quite know what to make of the situation. Some were unfazed, planning to go on with their days as normal; others, including myself, began getting anxious at the thought of potentially being killed in a place we had come to trust as a safe space throughout the past three years.
Now, because of how my classes are scheduled I never have classes on Mondays, so I avoided campus as much as I possibly could. I only traveled to campus once to catch a shuttle bus at Mandeville Hall early on Monday morning. Campus was emptier than I’d ever seen it, save for patrolling police in cars, on bicycles, on foot – everywhere. Just a week prior, our campus had been filled with security due to Pope Francis’ blessed visit to Hawk Hill. Now the reason for needing security wasn’t so joyous.
Thankfully, we all escaped Monday unscathed. And it finally seemed as though life at St. Joe’s was returning to normal, when we heard word on Thursday that there was someone wielding a gun on the campus of Community College of Philadelphia. Immediately one could hear echoed sentiments of “stay safe” and “be careful” around campus. I called my parents to tell them not to worry, that the police were on the case, that the man was fairly far away – all while wondering if the guy next to me happened to casually have an automatic assault weapon in his backpack.
We later discovered that the threat on CCP’s campus was due to an altercation between two people who knew each other, one of whom happened to have a handgun. Somehow, this made us feel better, as if a gunman people knew could be safer than an anonymous one.
I find it incredibly sad that we found ourselves thankful that “at least it was only a handgun” or that “well, they knew each other, so it’s alright.” How does that make any of this okay? Is it “alright” that students, at St. Joe’s and beyond, are living and learning in a place that palpitates with the undying fear that any day now, any minute now, someone could barge into a room and open fire?
The time for a conversation about gun violence – and the many, multifaceted factors that contribute to it – is now. It’s impossible to foster a free-flowing educational environment if students are strung-up with fright over their lives possibly ending in the middle of a lecture.
Despite the fact that the threat of violence at a Philadelphia area school did not come to fruition at Saint Joseph’s University, it still instilled a feeling of fear in many of us that I know I will never forget. And hopefully, we’ll never again have to remember the feeling of that fear. In order to ensure that, though, we need to speak openly about our beliefs on gun laws and strive to make change.
If you’re thinking that guns and the like don’t affect you, you’ve now seen firsthand that they do. Remember, it could have been us that day, but it shouldn’t be anyone. Ever.