A typical day on the Umpqua Community College campus in Roseburg, Oregon turned grim on Oct. 1.
Students and teachers attended classes just like they would on any other day. But this day was different. The lives of 10 people were ended that day after a shooter opened fire on the campus before committing suicide. The friends, families and 10 individual circles of relationships were rattled by the shooter’s actions.
Much of the talk that occurred after the shooting revolved around what we can do to prevent future tragedies. Should gun control laws be tightened? Did the shooter suffer from mental illness? Were there warning signs that were missed?
We talk about these topics after school shootings, but rarely does much change come out of it. The issues surrounding gun control and mental illness become key talking points in the moment, but then later fade away, only to resurface when the next shooting occurs. It’s a rollercoaster effect of how we address these issues.
As the pattern of discussing such issues is at its peak, we begin focusing on how we should prepare ourselves for future shootings. We teach students to hide under their desks, and we run drills to make sure we’re prepared at any given time. When a threat was made against a college in the Philadelphia area, schools across the region prepared for the worst, tightening normal safety procedures. Although it’s ideal to be prepared, especially after a threat is made, it’s important to realize that these precautions shouldn’t have only been made when there is an immediate threat.
It’s equally important to work toward preventing tragedies from happening again. There needs to be a balance between being proactive and being reactive. We need to make an equal effort in preventing future occurrences, as opposed to simply preparing for the “inevitable.”
However, this concept isn’t just unique to school shootings. We’ve seen similar instances at Lehigh. While a gathering of thousands of students at a rally surrounding diversity and inclusion is a positive step, it should not come at exclusively after the vandalism of Umoja and at the expense of our students. We shouldn’t have had to wait for the Office for Civil Rights to file a complaint and investigate the university. Instead of waiting for something negative to happen to marginalized groups on campus to explore inclusivity at Lehigh, we should have been working on the obvious problems existing in our community.
Waiting until after the fact in any given situation is too late. If a school shooting or hate crime does occur, we can certainly learn from it and take those lessons into account for how we prevent them in the future. However, these instances are problems we were already aware of. They are repetitive problems. Being prepared for the inevitable only goes so far. Instead of allowing ourselves to consider these events as unavoidable, we need to focus on being proactive in addressing them and making sure they don’t happen again. By doing this, we are creating an environment where these situations become the exception, not the rule.
Though we can take situations such as school shootings as a time to learn about the problems in our society, this shouldn’t be the only time we address these issues. So don’t focus on school shootings, the associated problems with mental health or media coverage for only the next few weeks as the headlines remain in the news. Address the issues that caused it, because they don’t go away. Think about what we can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
As important as it is to be prepared for the worst, the worst will only continue to happen if we don’t take preventative action. If we only focus on being prepared for the next shooting, then there’s nothing to stop it from happening again.