Let’s Revise Our Campus Culture Expectations To Prioritize Mental Health

Taylor Drake ’21

Photo by Phelps Moore ’22

The active shooter threat at Davidson College last Wednesday not only reminded us of the everyday threat of gun violence in America, but also revealed to us the unhealthy way we prioritize work and ignore our collective trauma as a community.

I went to bed late Tuesday night dreading all the work I needed to finish before my Wednesday classes. I started my day in the library watching the sunrise as I finished reading an article for my 8:05am class. After my class, I walked back to the library and took the same seat as earlier to finish a film for my 10:00 am independent study.

I tried to focus on the screen as the Red Bull I drank that morning wore off and my eyelids felt heavier. Just when my eyelids shut for more than half a second, my phone started buzzing and sirens wailed outside. I checked my phone to see a text from Davidson SSAFER: “Active Threat/Armed Intruder At the Hurt Hub @ Davidson Suspect with weapon reported at the Hurt Hub @ Davidson. Go into nearest room and lock door.” I looked up from my phone to see everyone else doing the same: looking up from their laptops and/or readings with their mouths agape. 

We stayed seated until Associate Dean of Faculty Fuji Luzada darted into the lobby from the back offices and announced, “This is not a drill. Run and hide somewhere safe!”

Everyone started running to the stairs, and I followed the crowd descending them. 

Once we found a room beyond the labyrinth of bookshelves, I felt my phone vibrate against my thigh. I saw a stream of texts from my mom: “Are you okay? I just got a note about an intruder. Please text me. What’s going on? Are you hiding? I love you.”

 I texted her back: “I don’t know. Hiding in the library. I’m okay right now, I love you.”

As we locked the doors and turned off the lights, I worried about the people at the Hurt Hub. I thought about blood flooding those cold floors. I thought how the industrial concrete floors might enable an easy clean-up. 

I thought about Davidson on the news. I imagined a helicopter shot circling crowds of people evacuating buildings, holding each other and crying. I thought about how hard it would be for the shooter to run from the Hurt Hub to main campus, but it didn’t slow my heart rate down. Some of my friends still weren’t texting me back. 

We stood in silence until another text from Davidson SSAFER informed us, “All Clear at Hurt Hub @ Davidson.”

We were all just as confused as before, but we came out from hiding and walked back up the stairs together. Everyone was calling someone to tell them they were okay. I called my mom and walked back to my room. She was in tears, and I was speechless. We ended our call, and I checked the time: 9:50am. I was mad at myself for not finishing my film, but I got ready for class anyway. 

I met my professor outside of the library. We talked about what happened and then the conversation moved on to gun control, impeachment, and then Thomas Mann. Classes changed and people started filing out of Chambers and Wall again. Everything seemed back to normal. 

Davidson College was clear. Our nightmare of an active shooter on campus did not become a reality that day.

I spent my whole morning worrying about finishing my work for class until I was hiding for my life in the library, worrying that I’d never go to class again. Those eight minutes, nearly double the time of the average mass shooting, according to the United States Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center, were a harsh reminder of the constant threat of gun violence we experience in any public place in America, especially a college campus. To take “clear” as a signal to return to normalcy as if we all didn’t just run and hide for our lives felt eerie and inappropriate.

If “the primary purpose of Davidson College is to assist students in developing humane instincts,” why was our first instinct to continue class or work in the same buildings where we just hid for our lives? Why did we not pause to address the trauma it caused our community?

Our cultural expectation to return to business as usual the same day after a disruptive event (whether it be a threat of gun violence or a doxing of a neo-Nazi student) leaves affected students behind, struggling to balance work and recuperation. This is not humane.

The college is rightly hyper-sensitive to preventing gun violence on campus, but they must also be sensitive to the trauma induced by these threats. A follow-up email clarifying that there was no actual shooter doesn’t make the threat itself feel any less real. 

Class should have been cancelled, or all professors should have turned their classes into discussion spaces (as some did) to ensure the well-being of traumatized students who felt comfortable attending. 

I do not write this to put any blame on the administration or faculty. I’d like to thank them for making our safety their first priority. They too are affected by the threat of gun violence, and I hope they found space to work through any trauma. This article should serve as an interrogation of our campus culture that prioritizes work over well-being during and after a threat of gun violence.

The greater blame must be put on the Americans validating their need for weapons of mass murder to protect themselves from an authoritarian government they’ve blindly elected. Blame must be put on the National Rifle Association, lobbyists, firearm companies, and government officials whose pocketbooks ooze the blood of dead children and use “thoughts and prayers” to blot out the stains. 

Until firearm policy is changed and enforced, Davidson must continue to acknowledge gun violence as an everyday threat to our lives.  However, just as we must assume audible gunshots could be an active shooter, we must also address the collective trauma that it causes us and evaluate the school’s cultural expectations that prevent us from addressing it. 

Taylor Drake ’21 is a Memory Studies major from Maryville, Tennessee. Contact him at trdrake@davidson.edu.

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