"We discuss sensitive and highly charged topics in my classroom," wrote a professor who's just resigned his tenured position, "concerning anti-religious bias, racism, sexism, classism and many other indexes of oppression and discrimination. Students need to be able to express themselves respectfully and freely, and they cannot do so about heated topics if they know that fellow students are armed. . . ."
Something I'm seriously pondering as I half-heartedly look for another job this summer. Because I do teach social justice--in fact, have joined a social justice learning community at KSU in order to hone my skills--and this is a consideration for me, too.
Is it going to be safe this fall for me to challenge students to think, to question their assumptions, to analyze their prejudices? Will it be safe for me to confront cheaters? To fail people who cannot or do not do the work? Is it going to be safe for students if I encourage them to challenge each other in classroom discussions and exercises as I have done in the past? Can they still speak up about their own experiences as racial and sexual minorities? And don't tell me that it's always been a small risk: I know that. I also know that if the single best statistical predictor of death by gun is presence of a gun, then campus carry laws can only elevate the risk.
Should I spend $5-800 on a bullet-proof vest, if only to guard against accidental discharge? (That's a month's salary--or more--for one class.) I'm only half joking here: These are kids we are talking about, after all, people of an age at which rates of accidental injury and death are higher than for any other group. And this is Georgia we're talking about, where no training at all is required for permitting.
You can't take a loaded gun into a range or a gun store or show on your hip or in your purse or any way other than in its case. You have to show that it's unloaded, and at shows they even tag it to show it's been inspected and put a plastic thing through the trigger guard to prevent it firing. Why should I not take the same precautions in my classroom? Because unfortunately, under the law, I will not be allowed, that's why. And would I want to start every class by checking guns at the door, even if I could? No. It's ludicrous. I am not Wyatt Earp.
Should I carry a gun of my own? Could I, would I, shoot a student, even in self defense? (Probably not: It is a central tenet of Buddhism, according to my admittedly limited understanding, that my life is not inherently more valuable, for any reason, than that of any other sentient being. And as the effects of my late husband's NRA-induced paranoia wear off with the passage of time, I am progressively more and more inclined to just "peace out".) Would I, could I, shoot a student to protect a whole classroom full of innocent kids? Possibly. Probably, even. Do I want to place myself in such an ethical quandary? That would not seem wise. "If you don't want a slip, stay off the ice," advise AA old-timers.
And how would my kids feel about a professor with a gun on her hip? What would it be like for them to know that I, by even bringing one onto campus, have thus publicly stated my willingness to kill one of them or one of my colleagues under whatever I judge, in the heat of the moment, to be the "right" circumstances? What the hell kind of message is that sending? Especially to Black students, given what I teach about implicit biases! Would any of them, Black or white, feel free to challenge me? To question me? To argue with me? No. I can't imagine that they would: It's already enough of a challenge, given the power differential between professors and students, under normal circumstances. As it is, most of the challenges directed at me only come from white males.
No, the idea of going into the classroom or even into office hours armed is ludicrous, appalling even. And ultimately unacceptable. Carrying one in the van for personal protection on campus is only slightly less objectionable. It's like Mutually Assured Destruction. I can ramp up my defenses, thereby increasing the danger to us all, or I can start the disarmament process. It's got to start somewhere; might as well be with me.