A Shooting, My Campus, & the Things We Tell Ourselves

SCC Shooting

I really didn’t think that the campus shooting had a lot to do with me as I showed up for my classes on Tuesday at Sac City College. On Thursday as I was leaving the campus in the late afternoon, something was going on. Police cars, fire engine, ambulance were racing to the campus. I could see a group of students gathered on the sidewalk as I walked across the large parking lot to my car—I thought to myself, Oh, some sort of medical emergency. As I began my commute home I received a text message, then there was a breaking news announcement on the radio—a school shooting at Sac City College. The campus was on lockdown. Later I learned that a group of young men were arguing, a fight ensued and Roman Gonzalez was shot to death, another student shot, another stabbed.

As horrible as it seemed that a shooting would happen on the campus where I teach, it never occurred to me that any of my students would be personally involved. After all, I teach Women’s Studies and this incident involved those other kinds of students. I told myself, and heard a kind of litany over and over again at the college as classes resumed the next week: It was an isolated incidence. This was not an active shooter event. It could have happened anywhere—on the street, at the light rail, at the mall…

Faculty members were encouraged to talk to their students about the shooting. I opened up my class that morning offering a space to talk about what happened. I said some of the things I had been telling myself. This was an isolated incidence. This was not an active shooter. It could have happened anywhere… Students began to talk about their experiences during the lockdown—it was very scary because they had no information about what was happening—they were receiving calls and texts from family outside the campus who had heard about the shooting on the news… I thought, This is good, we are processing the event.

Then a student raised her hand and said, “It was my brother who was killed, Roman Gonzales.” Another student shared, “Roman and I are friends and we had just gotten out of class…” I was stunned. This moment shattered all of the beliefs I had told myself and expressed to my students to distance this event from my own life, their lives. I had talked about the shooting in such a generic way, unaware of the personal connections to this tragedy for my students. At least, my students and I were able to directly offer our condolences and support to those who had experienced a traumatic personal loss as a result of this isolated incidence.

I reflected on my own self-talk and the talk going on between faculty that day and in the days that followed. I felt sick. In a conversation with someone, I said that I despair over gun violence in our society; she responded, “It’s not the gun, it’s the person.” Well, it was the gun that killed Roman. A fist fight would have had very different outcomes for those involved and the campus community. It is the gun that kills. Towards the end of the week a faculty member sent a message to everyone on the exchange: “Our students are sick of talking about the shooting…” Some will live with this shooting for the rest of their lives.

At the end of the week I decided to attend a Town Hall meeting that had been called to debrief faculty and students on the shooting. The chancellor, college president, chief of the district police department, and our local police captain were all there to speak to us. They are women, except for the chancellor, and I respect and like them very much. They say the same things that I told myself, that we have been telling each other as a campus community. The police chief adds her assurance, “The campus is safe.” Well, not really. I always hate when this assurance of safety follows a shooting. It is false. It is a lie. I don’t understand the logic. The president of the college talks about all of things that have been done since Roman was killed: moments of silence at board meetings, discussions about alert systems, lockdowns, and on and on. Towards the end of the meeting a student asks, “What is the campus going to do to honor Roman? He was one of our students.” Another student asks, “If Roman had been a member of another community would the campus have responded differently?” The heart of the matter…

What I learned is the things we told ourselves after this shooting, the killing of one of our students on campus, serve an important personal and social purpose. It was an isolated incident (It doesn’t involve me. I am not at risk.). It could happen anywhere (It is random. It is not embedded in our social fabric. There’s nothing we can do about it.) It wasn’t an active shooter (Why should I care? Thugs are going to shoot each other.) It’s not the gun (There is really nothing that needs to change about gun culture and violence in the U.S.) The campus is safe (No need for outrage or social change—we are all okay.) The things we tell ourselves and each other distance us personally from caring and outrage, and perpetuate a social milieu where we accept and feel we can do nothing to change the ever present violence in our lives.

I felt relieved the week after, the aftermath was over. I arrived on campus the following week happy to be seeing my students. As I walked to my classroom and observed students coming and going, for the first time I asked myself, “I wonder who is carrying a gun in their backpack.” I felt ashamed of myself for this reflection. This had everything to do with me…

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One Response to A Shooting, My Campus, & the Things We Tell Ourselves

  1. Deb Cohler says:

    Thanks for posting and sharing this Sheryl. On my mind much today, in the aftermath of another shooting a community college….

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