I have been on exchange here at the University of South Carolina for exactly a month tomorrow. I was planning on writing a post about all of the amazing and exciting things I have been doing, but that will have to wait. Today, there was a fatal shooting on campus. Two people died. American school shootings are something I am used to seeing only on television, and even then, they shock and sadden me greatly. However, to experience one firsthand has been more confronting and frustrating than I could have ever imagined. Before I delve into this post (which will undoubtedly turn into a rant), I want to say that I have always openly proclaimed my love for the United States, so I never would have thought that I would write a critical post like this. And there will be many people who will disagree with my views. That is fine, but I am so shocked by what I have experienced today that I need to attempt to articulate my thoughts.
I was walking along one of the main streets on campus this afternoon when I received a text on my phone – “SHORS FIRED AT NEW SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH. Seek safe shelter. Obey officials.” My immediate reaction was that it was not real. Firstly, “shots” was spelt incorrectly and secondly, this was the sort of thing that only happened in a country far away from my own. Then I remembered that I was in that country. Fortunately, I was already on my way back to my apartment. The seriousness of the situation began to set in with the official university texts and emails that followed. The university was in lockdown. Rumours were abundant on social media and further information about the shooting trickled slowly through the local news. My roommate and I scrambled to stream a live feed online. Very little was known, other than that there had been fatalities. Shortly after, about an hour after the first text, we received notification that there was “no longer an existing threat” and the lockdown was over.
I had a class scheduled to start in 15 minutes – was I expected to go? There was nothing to suggest that my classes had been cancelled and class attendance is recorded religiously here, so I reluctantly decided to go. This turned out to be a wise academic decision, as I immediately had to sit a quiz. Yes, people had died at the campus just moments earlier, but I was expected to take a test – as if nothing had happened. Class attendance was normal and the professor taught as usual, with basically no mention of the shooting. I then went to my next class, only a block away from the crime scene. The same eery sense of normality followed. My professor even had the audacity to say that students who were too shaken up to come to class should “harden up”. There were also girls in my class that complained their sorority party had been cancelled this evening. Other students actually scoffed at the fact that some students were taking the shooting quite seriously. An overwhelming mixture of rage and sadness had engulfed me by this point. I realised that this tragedy was so commonplace in the US that people were almost completely desensitised to it. I actually got into a heated argument with my professor about it. Sure, I always knew the US had a huge problem with gun violence and I always thought it was ridiculous that people vehemently oppose gun control laws, but the level of nonchalance I witnessed this afternoon stunned me.
Is gun violence so “normal” that a person being shot to death on campus does not warrant classes being cancelled for the afternoon? Does it no longer evoke any sense of concern or empathy? Are you merely expected to “harden up” if you feel disturbed by the fact that this violent crime just took place in your community? Is it too much to expect that you can attend or work at school or university and be safe? All of answers appear to be “yes”. The complete disregard for the fact that a murder took place here today almost gives the sense that this violence is condoned – or, at the very least, not worth fighting. It is such an embedded part of the American culture. And sadly, I think many Americans do not realise that this distorted view of what is “normal” is not something that merely exists in other first-world countries. This is not normal. It deeply saddens me that such a beautiful country can place such little value on the loss of innocent lives. Do Americans not realise that they should be able to set a higher standard for their safety? Maybe the devotion to the Second Amendment simply runs too deep to comprehend any push for change, whether it be legislative or simply to societal values. I know I am oversimplifying a very complicated issue, but surely something could and should be done.
I still love the United States, but what I experienced today certainly tarnished that to a degree.
Rest in peace, Dr. Raja Fayad. My sincerest condolences to your family and friends.