In the past week, four campuses have experienced bomb threats. The most recent case came at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. So far, it looks like all of the threats have been false alarms, but it’s hard not to feel a little shaken up. Schools are supposed to be safe spaces.
Schools haven’t been all that safe necessarily for a while now. Numerous shootings and bomb threats have shaken that image of the calm place of learning. Yet even with these violent events, schools are quick to regain the image of safety, only to be repeatedly threatened. What makes schools so unique, and why are we so desperate to see them as safe?
Schools are the background to some of the largest changes and leaps in development in a person’s life. We learn academic and social skills. We explore interests and become familiar with a variety of perspectives and life experiences. Colleges and universities are places of especially high concentrations of these leaps and developments. For many students, attending college is the first time that they live on their own or with roommates. These students are faced with independence, the ability and responsibility to make choices that will shape their lives, and a new environment where they are able to question the ideas and beliefs they used to hold to. It’s a tumultuous, stressful, and exciting time, all on its own.
And it is a time when many students are vulnerable and physically distant from the families and communities that they look to for support and that support them. Given all of these conditions, people have to trust in the universities and colleges to provide a safe environment for that type of growth and exploration. College is a stressful enough time without worrying about acts of violence on campus.
By and large, universities and colleges are seen as havens, a space apart from the rest of the world where young minds can flourish, due in part I bet to idyllic memories of one’s own time there and to the certain level of economic and social privilege necessary for affording a college education. Threats to this quiet, academic image are horrific and shocking, but they’re also seen as temporary, a momentary blight on an otherwise pristine face.
Unfortunately, as we discussed last week, given the prevalence of rape and sexual assault among women college students, universities and colleges can sometimes be extremely unsafe and unsupportive places. This makes the need for making universities and colleges truly safe spaces and responsive to all forms of violence especially crucial, and especially difficult. When even threats and acts of violence, while significantly affecting the university communities where they occur, only temporarily threaten this broad cultural image, then it’ll take a lot of voices raised and a lot of activism to bring attention to the gaps in this safe space.