When the Columbine Massacre happened, I was in the second grade. A few days before being hooded for my Master of Social Work degree, my university was on lockdown as four students were injured and two lost their lives to a gunman. The day of the attack, I was walking up to the center city campus and had just missed being admitted inside. I couldn’t understand what was going on, but quickly caught on as other students and professors piled around the entrance with varying degrees of news. The updates were quick, and a little dizzying.
It seemed unreal that it would happen to my university, even though there was nothing that made our campus immune.
As we waited for the lockdown to end (somehow collectively thinking this would all be over soon), we were informed that security wanted us to leave because they had reason to believe another suspect was heading towards the center city building and we were essentially exposed targets. I got in my car and left, realizing that this was not something that would blow over quickly. What followed were sensations that caught me off-guard. I felt panic, anger, and confusion, even after removing myself from the perceived danger. I cried and couldn’t stop myself from shaking. There was no way to go home due to the traffic surrounding the area. I couldn’t make a concrete decision on where I should even be and had to call a friend, because I couldn’t calm myself down. In the days following the incident, I went numb and shared very little of what I experienced that day.
School shootings have been present somewhere in the background of my academic career since I was a child. I’ve dealt with it by trusting that it wouldn’t happen to me or affect me in any way, rather than taking a critical look at what it means to be a student that has to worry about something like this. My heart goes out to the families affected time and time again when such a tragedy strikes. While I’m inspired by the resiliency shown by student survivors of school shootings, I’m also frustrated by the idea that students should even have to show such resiliency.
I’m grateful that my personal schedule that day steered me clear of danger, but I long for a day when every student has the opportunity to just go to class. The college experience comes with enough newfound challenges without the threat of gun violence. For some, it’s the first time away from home. It may be a heavier course load than in high school. If you’re a graduate student, academia is a completely different ballgame. The idea that on top of everything else, college students have to also worry about protecting their lives while getting from class to class is ludicrous. Having to worry about that as a high schooler is ludicrous. Having to worry about it as a middle or elementary schooler is ludicrous.
Nevertheless, from my experience I was reminded of the need to speak. I don’t know that my words are any more eloquent or my story any more inspiring than anyone else who was there that day, but it still matters.
Traumatic events, even ones wherein an individual isn’t hurt, can lead to the desire to shut down and emotionally retreat. Besides dealing with loss, pushing through these isolating emotions are a major hurdle to overcome in times like these. Speaking with friends and loved ones not only serves as a therapeutic outlet, it helps them know that you are processing your emotions in some way. It also extends the opportunity for someone you love to share that they experienced the same fear or frustration that you felt.
Your voice is not only important to those you love, but has power in your community as well. Something truly gratifying took place after the shooting - UNCC students leaned in and took care of one another. I saw classmates and even non-students discussing how the shooting made them feel and their condolences for people they have never met.
Your healing process can lead to healing in others by the light of your example. So don’t shut down, and don’t think no one wants to hear what you have to say.
Gun violence and mass shootings have become a part of American culture. It may seem like the constant threat and fear are inescapable. However, it’s imperative to implement healthy patterns of care so that you don’t find yourself in a steady state of panic. It’s okay not to engage in the news and take breaks from social media. Limits on the intake of negative information will help you manage your daily emotions and center yourself on your present reality. Also, lean on your natural supports. Don’t fall into the mental trap of thinking no one can support you and how you feel. Open up to your loved ones about the emotions you’re experiencing and allow them to lean on you as well. Lastly, utilize your voice and your frustrations to change your environment. Get involved in community efforts to change how we are looking at this issue. Take the initiative to vote and talk to city or state officials about what can be done for your protection. It’s your right to have a say in what happens in your community, and the power lies in your voice.
Imani Crawford received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Master's degree in Social Work from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She currently lives and works in Charlotte, NC as a community crisis specialist.