From Student to Activist: School Shooting Culture


Lifestyle Staff Writer | Jamie Clarkson |

We always say the same thing to ourselves. Sure, school shootings happen. But they would never happen to me. While violent attacks on college campuses are less prevalent, they cannot be ruled out. All students must face the possibility.

My realization came to me when I woke up in the middle of the night, clutching my bedpost in a panic, after mistaking a slamming door for a gunshot. Were my peers struck by this paranoia? In a world where mass shootings are the norm, how are college students coping?

I find that a lack of predictability drives these nerves; we do not always know how to react. While texting a friend and fellow student, I asked if they felt prepared for that scenario. “I think I’m good under pressure, however, I’m not sure,” they said. “I don’t think I’ve been put in a situation where I had to act/react in a life or death situation, nor had training for that kind of situation.”

In school, we had lockdown drills. Although it was a bleak practice that might end up as ineffective, at least we had peace of mind that we knew what to do when a “bad man” came into the building. Now we are in college. We are adults and do not need a supervisor to lock the door and huddle us to a corner out of sight. We grew out of that role and must find our own alternatives while we watch the subsequent generation fall into the same disturbing pattern.

“As an individual who has a younger sibling in high school and a parent who works in education, not a day goes by that I do not think about their wellbeing,” says Kennedy Rasberry, a freshman at Ohio University. In a statement she emailed to me, she continues, “At least once a day, I am confronted by the thought that my family will become victims of a school shooting.”

I find myself agreeing with her. My niece is in kindergarten and I feel a wave of anxiety every time I picture her in a classroom.

Our fears are usually shrouded in speculation. We see things on television and worry that it will happen to us or to someone we love. The fears of some are validated by personal experience.

Sophie Farquharson, a freshman studying music therapy, is a survivor of a school shooting. She shared her fears with me, and hyperawareness of the exits in every room. We spoke through Twitter, where I first recognized her passion for the subject. “Every day is different,” she said. “Some days it affects me a lot, in the sense that I don’t want to leave my dorm and go to class, and some days it doesn’t really even cross my mind.”

I wondered if this trauma ever stood in the way. She shared her experience of going to New York City as a member of the Marching 110. “For a while I was terrified of being in large crowds,” she said. “While the Macy’s parade was a phenomenal experience, the night before I actually had a panic attack thinking that something might happen. It really makes you realize that anything can happen, and you can’t think ‘it won’t happen to me.’”

We can no longer convincingly tell ourselves that we are exempt. Sure, they happen, but never to me. The possibility creeps up behind us and the fear stands in the way of our pursuit of happiness. School used to be an honorable thing, at the very least it was a normal thing. Now, it is surrounded by an unshakeable dread.

*One source spoke to FANGLE on the condition of anonymity.