In the face of a potential shooting, we did nothing
Though we all know now that nobody was hurt at Central Catholic High School on March 29, I want to write this article as if someone were. It’s not that I would wish that on anyone, but that I want to enforce the idea that anything could have happened. For those who do not know, Central Catholic High School is a private, all-male, Catholic high school with little to no building security. There is no reason why they could not have become part of the epidemic of school shootings that has been sweeping our country for the last decade. I went to kindergarten with boys who grew up and went off to Central, and when I saw the first Twitter headline, I thought to myself, “dear god, not them too.”
I then got down on my knees and started praying. My phone was blowing up with all sorts of information — people saying it was a “hoax” (which I think is an accurate but sick word to use for a falsified police call), people saying six boys were dead, people saying they hoped they didn’t lose points for missing class. People were taking photos of stretchers entering and exiting the building and screenshots of sketchy Twitter news sources. I will try not to comment on the language used by some of my peers around the event, but I will comment on some behaviors that I noticed that I think Carnegie Mellon as a whole should take responsibility for.
Next, I got a text notification that Carnegie Mellon PD were calling for a shelter-in-place. Except that’s not really what the message said. It actually said, “There is a large police presence at Central Catholic High School, next door to CMU residential buildings. Please avoid the area.” I did wonder why the shelter-in-place mandate was not part of the actual body of the message. A while later I received a RAVE Mobile Safety Alert that said, very clearly, “Shelter-in-place,” which was also the subject of an email that I received from the same system.
What happened after that was what really surprised me: nothing. Students did not observe the shelter-in-place. Neither did most professors. Classes were not canceled (and no, it’s not enough to just send people the link to the CaPS website and hope for the best). By the time the Carnegie Mellon alert system gave the all-clear, I was already in class, 30 minutes deep in a lecture on glucose because what other choice did I have? Everybody kept moving, though we did not know if anyone had been hurt, though helicopters were circling overhead. And in doing so, I believe we failed.
As a university, we failed the Central Catholic students who might have been in danger and the first responders who needed crosswalks clear and passers-by off of the sidewalks (a great reason to shelter in place even if you’re not concerned about your own safety). We failed our peers who did not have the ability to focus during lecture, who were scared and scarred by the heavy police presence and the language around gun violence.
Most of all, we failed everyone who has ever been a victim of gun violence. By acting like nothing was happening while a potential active shooter was right next our campus, we denied the danger and severity of these types of incidents. When we behave in accordance with the desensitization to violence that as a generation we claim to hate, we keep it in perpetual motion. Thank God nobody was hurt, but if they had been, we would have been in class, probably thinking about how terrible it is that nobody cares about this sort of thing in America. If you are defiant, show it. You should be angry. You should be sad. You should be panicked. Certainly we are not to blame for the epidemic of gun violence in schools, but if we do not behave as if it matters to us when it is happening on our doorstep, how can we expect change?