Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Now, I know this is judging a book by its cover... The photos are everywhere so there probably is no need to link, but do you notice that the preferred picture being used of the guy who shot up Safeway in Arizona went from one of a nondescript, normal-looking college student to a terrifying crazed lunatic? The first time I saw the current picture accompanying the story I thought it was a mistake, or that the photo related to something else.

Whenever one of these sprees occurs, naturally we all think of the situations in our own lives where something like it could happen. The 24/7 of the parasitic media (I am so glad I don't have real cable or satellite TV) makes it seem as if these are common or likely events, when that really isn't true. But still, they make a splash when they occur, and I think awareness, or even fear, crosses our minds. It is true also that there is something riveting about it, pondering what goes through the mind of someone who would do such a thing and trying to figure out what sort of person would do it, if we have ever met anyone who fits that description.

College campuses are one place where similar incidents have happened. I've been teaching for 11 years this semester. Since 2002 I have taught about 100 students per fall and spring semester, and 30 over the summer. Have I had any weird students in my classes? Yes. Or this one, although it wasn't scary. When I was teaching the urban education classes in the mid-'00s, there was a student who failed the class more than once who kept showing up the following semester, disrupting and demanding a permission number. My memory is a little fuzzy (the classes were team taught) but I think public safety had to get involved.

I also remember a student from five years ago whom I do not seem to have written about here; she wrote disturbing, hostile things in her journal, blamed others for her own shortcomings - and she was very fond of the word "hate." She contributed to a class atmosphere that was not as successful as I'd like. I commented on her entries, tried to be soothing and discourage so easily using the hate label, without much success. I was so glad when the class was over that year!

Any upsetting incidents? Yes. Here's another, although again, not scary. And then there was this, a difficult time in my teaching, scary too, but not in this way...students were sad, felt vulnerable and wanted answers. But the crime didn't occur on campus and the perpetrator wasn't a student.

These were nothing even remotely like the crimes that make the news, or the behaviors reported in this story or in VA a couple years ago. Still, would it surprise me to hear that among the tiny handful of odd or angry students I've encountered...there was someone who had a psychotic snap? Hmm. UA did have a student who flipped out. I wasn't on campus, it was during my System years, and it wasn't on a day when I had class, but I remember it very well. Maybe not, in the case of the "hate" woman or "worst movie" guy, although I think it is a stretch. Would any of the others be violent? Not so much. If anything, self-destructive behavior is more common.

Did I do anything "official?" Yes, I did what seemed appropriate in each situation, which in most cases wasn't a lot. If it was referred out of my hands, was the student's problem addressed? I don't know, but I doubt it. But I think that if a young man went from perfectly ordinary looking to off the charts scary overnight, I just may have noticed and done something, although I know that's much easier to say than it is to do.

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