• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

American Time

It doesn’t have to be this way.

May 25, 2022
 
 

Last week’s mass shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., was horrifying. This week’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., is, too.

The fact that I have to modify “mass shooting” with an indication of which week I’m talking about says too much.

Having grown up in western New York, my first paid job in high school was at a Tops supermarket. I recognized the sign immediately. The incident was only about a half hour away from Lockport, where the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh went to high school. The area has a history. Western New York was once a hotbed of abolitionism and feminism; the Seneca Falls conference was held there, and the Women’s Rights National Park is there. (We took the kids several years ago. It’s worth seeing if you’re in the area. I was struck that even though the park is entirely urban, the rangers still dress in forest green.) Western New York borders Canada, so it became part of the Underground Railroad. My mom owned a historic house there for a few years that had a plaque out front noting that it was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. You could see the spot in the basement where people hid. She left that spot alone.

For a place associated with abolitionism to become the staging ground for a racist massacre is beyond words.

School shootings have a history, too. The Wife and I got married four days after the Columbine shooting. I remember being floored when The Boy, at age 5, came home from school and told us about the lockdown drill his kindergarten class did that day. I remember exactly where I was when I heard about Sandy Hook. The image that stuck with me was of the children holding hands as the teacher led them through the parking lot. They weren’t much younger than my daughter was at the time. After the Parkland shooting, The Girl—who was in eighth grade at the time—led a walkout from classes at her junior high in protest. (The acting principal of the school called me at work to try to get me to dissuade her. I listened politely, then told TG we’d support whatever she wanted to do.) The kids were excited about the March for Our Lives in D.C., so we took them. The march was peaceful, dignified and moving. We were glad we went, even as we were upset that we had to.

The Uvalde massacre comes as The Girl counts the weeks until graduation.

Colleges haven’t been immune. I remember the Virginia Tech and Umpqua Community College shootings well. (The latter was the focus of the only conference panel I’ve ever attended at which I felt like my typing was too loud.) For that matter, churches, movie theaters and malls haven’t been immune.

I’m old enough to remember that it wasn’t always this way. At my public high school in the 1980s, the worst we had was fire drills. “School violence” referred to students beating each other up. The area wasn’t particularly affluent or refined—some of the language the gym coaches used then would occasion a visit to HR now—but I don’t remember the phrase “school shootings” being used at all.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I shouldn’t be able to mark the passage of time through memories of massacres. It doesn’t have to be this way.

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