Saturday, November 15, 2008

Virginia Tech

The last few weeks have been extremely busy. I can’t believe that I only have two weeks of classes left before I am ¼ of the way done with my masters! This semester has been the busiest I’ve ever experienced, but my grades are extremely strong and I feel confident about the work I’ve put into each class. I feel completely in my element here, especially when I am teaching! Teaching politics means thinking on your feet and having knowledge of many other areas- geography, history, sociology, economics, etc. I've gotten random questions from my students about the operations of ballistic missiles, public opinion on the Vietnam War from start to end, and had post-class discussions about the mortgage crisis. My students have on the whole impressed me. Last week, we discussed Iran and several of my students were very knowledgeable about a country that I suspect many Americans are not. They are bright, motivated, and ask intelligent questions. I've been a sounding board for graduate school advice, test anxiety, and had to learn about how to incorporate all kinds of learners into the process. It's been a wonderful experience and I've gained just as much from teaching my own class as I have from the classes I am taking!

Last week, I was in my executive branch class on Thursday afternoon as usual, when two fellow students called the teachers attention to a text message sent to all students that possible gunshots had been fired in Pritchard Hall. Our class of about 12 students immediately went silent- the mood changed completely.

Before coming to Virginia Tech, I guess I thought I knew some of what must have felt like to be a part of the events that happened on 4/16. At that very moment though, I could hardly even begin to describe my emotions accurately. Fear. Confusion. Feeling disturbed. Wondering if this was really happening. Trying to recall in my head if any of my students lived in that hall. We closed the blinds and wheeled a tv in front of the window and shut the door so it locked. In the room, the professor and two students had been on campus on 4/16, and there were changes in all three of them as they tried to understand what might be going on. We couldn’t really carry on with class, because everyone was going through their own emotions.

It turned out that the “gunshots” were really the sounds of an exploded nail gun canister in a dumpster, but you can never be too safe anymore. As a teacher, I’ve felt like it’s so important to be aware, watch your students, and note any strange behavior or attitudes that crop up. In that moment, I am sure that I only experienced a fraction of the emotions that Virginia Tech students felt in 2007. It is truly scary to be on campus in that situation, because you get the feeling that everyone else in the world knows what’s going on but you don’t. You’re sitting there in lockdown, having heard sirens a few moments before, trying to grapple with the possibility of real danger.

When 4/16 happened, I was studying abroad in England. The difference between American media coverage and British coverage was marked. Whereas British news covered it in the light of “look how this university pulled together”, American sources were interested in a blame game. Other TA’s that I work with were interviewed after 4/16, and turned down interviews with local news sources after the reporters asked “Do you think the president should be fired?”. Virginia Tech is an extremely close community, and it’s amazing that with so many students, it is truly possible to feel the same things at the same time- whether it’s pride in football games or concern over another potential shooting.

I walk by the buildings where several students were killed on 4/16 every day, and it is refreshing to see that the community has somewhat healed. Students go in and out of the buildings, on with their lives, and travel across the immense campus feeling safe.

Several people expressed concern when they heard I was coming here for graduate school. Rest assured that I am signed up for the VT Alerts system, and we got phone calls and emails to let us know what was going on. In any case, it is amazing to be part of a campus community that truly takes safety seriously and investigates problems. I honestly feel more safe here than I did as a senior in college at times.

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