See Light in the Chaos
From chaos comes clarity. This time of year I always begin to anticipate how I might feel. This coming Monday, April 16 will be the eleven-year anniversary of the shooting at Virginia Tech.
I still lose my breath as I think of those lost and those impacted, my peers, colleagues, students, friends, it is part of who we are...We are all Hokies.
As I sit here and reflect, I can remember the principal from Columbine visiting with our staff (an intimate meeting of no more than 12 people) a few months after the shooting at Virginia Tech. I remember him telling us their ten-year anniversary of the high school shooting was coming up. The Columbine shooting occurred on April 20, 1999 and the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, the numbers only continue to grow over this twenty-year period. It is important to note some records date back to as early as the 1800s for school shootings. Other records state that the term mass shooting began after the 1966 shooting at the University of Texas, Austin.
I can only speak from my own experience at Virginia Tech. I do my best not to watch any media coverage of mass shootings on television, social media and so on. I did not watch until my eyes locked in on coverage on June 13, 2016, I remember being in my kitchen and watching the day after the Pulse shooting. I stood there and the tears streamed down my face. The feelings are always here, what gets me through is remembering how the community in Blacksburg and individuals outside of the area came together, how we had each other to lean on, and we were hopeful.
For this Friday’s post, I thought I would share a couple raw Facebook messages I had this past year...
Post from November after the Las Vegas Concert shooting (2017)
A long read but why not take some time to read...I am letting it all fall out of my head and heart this morning. I have been praying, hoping and it is time to act.
I debated on posting but this has been bubbling inside me way to long. I know some will have different feelings about all of this and if you do, I want you to talk to me by actually finding a time to talk to me, not through social media comments. Let us get uncomfortable to come up with productive solutions versus open winded social media blasts that rarely go any further than me stating why I am upset or your upset. Let us get to having difficult conversations out of our comfort circle and have some active listening and civil discourse to come up with productive positive change. If I see you in person, I will talk to you about it, let us not become numb with comfort and let us have courage to be uncomfortable.
First I know that I have multiple identities in my life that frame what I believe about mass shootings: I am female, white, 40, Scot Irish, Cherokee, Southerner, able bodied, cisgender, Christian, single mother, daughter, teacher, researcher, poet and I was at Virginia Tech during the mass shooting. We all bring into difficult conversations many lenses and creases.
The VT shooting was over ten years ago, some of what I remember from the first day was the following (an excerpt from an article I wrote about my experience):
"It was April 16, 2007 and I was a doctoral student at Virginia Tech serving as a graduate assistant in the Dean of Students Office. That Monday morning we were meeting with our head orientation leaders at our regularly scheduled 8am meeting. It was a typical day. We sat around going over important agenda items and catching up with one another about the weekend. Around 9am, the students left to go to class and other campus engagements. Shortly after the students left the office, we received word that two students had been shot at one of the residence halls. At this time, there was not concern for an active shooter.
As I proceed with the story, you will notice that I will always address the shooter, as the shooter. I believe it is important to not share the identifying features of the shooter because it teaches us to assume an active shooter is one type of individual, when in reality there is not a clear description of who or what makes up an active shooter. I avoid using him or her, because if we do we begin to visualize what we believe all active shooters are which may set up us for potential problems.
Later that morning the shooter proceeded to Norris Hall were 30 people were killed and many more suffered major and minor injuries. At that time, the campus was placed on locked down and everyone was to stay put and away from windows. I was in the Dean of Students Office at the time. For me, because I can only speak from my experience was numbing. It was as if in my head I kept thinking is this really happening. Once the events of the day progressed, the Dean of Students Office number became the main hotline. We were receiving phone calls and emails from all directions. From parents wanting to know if there student was okay to how can I donate funds or goods. Due to the influx of calls, late that afternoon an emergency call center was opened in the Virginia Tech research park. There were about ten to twelve of us who worked the call center that night. The room we used for the call center was filled with multiple workstations that each had a computer and phone. Each of the walls in the room had large wipe boards. It is hard to explain the amount of information coming in and the challenges of deciphering what information was important and what was not. We found ourselves writing anything and everything on the wipe boards to make sure not to miss any details. Again for me, it was numbing…a couple of the phone calls that have stayed with me were the following that I received from someone stating that we deserved what happened and that it should happen more often to a father calling in stating he had not seen his daughter for 10 years and he thought she went to Virginia Tech – he wanted me to let him know she was okay. The one that I flashback to at the word of another mass shooting was a call that I received from a mother of a student. I can’t remember the conversation word for word, but I received the call between 10-11pm on April 16 this is how I remember it, “I just found out that my son who was supposed to graduate with his masters is dead…” and as she spoke, I could hear the student’s father screaming in the background. To be honest I cannot remember what I said, but I remember listening intently and jotting down notes. Phone calls from family members of the deceased were now pouring into the call center. Why is this, it is based on how communication must occur when there is a death at the university. The majority of the individuals killed were not from Virginia, they were from other states and countries. The authorities of each local must be contacted and they are given the responsibility of reaching out to the families to notify of the deceased. I think that first night I stayed until about 1am.
I found myself back on campus early the next day, probably 7:30am I just couldn’t be away. I needed to be there to help. The next few days continued, with long nights at the call center. During the day, I helped with organizing the influx of donations that we were receiving from folks. Items ranged from banners, to drawings of each victim, Hershey donated Virginia Tech M & Ms to be placed all over campus, to baked goods (which we could not eat or give out), to jewelry for each victims family, handmade blankets, monetary donations and the list goes on and on.
Thursday of that week my advisor got all of the graduate students together to debrief and come together to talk about the events earlier in the week. At this time, I had not stopped from helping in some capacity. Everyone went around and shared how they were doing, it got to me, it was the first time that week I stopped to think about what had happened. I broke down and the tears started to flow, I had not even realized the work I had been doing. Folks jumped in to say hey I would work the emergency call center. That first night I stepped away brought on feelings of guilt. This was only the beginning of what was to follow."
Over the past ten years I struggle with varying emotions related to my experience and there are so many more had by individuals in our country who have been directly impacted in differing ways by mass shootings (creating communities of people affected by mass shootings). I can list the shootings over the past ten years that have taken me to find a place to cry if it is in my car, the shower, or on a run to reflect. I can remember many times with my son from when he was four until now at nine seeing me cry and asking me mommy what is wrong. I said when you are a bit older I will talk to you about it.
I am in a different place now talking about my experience. When the Pulse shooting happened, it was the first time I could actually watch coverage about a mass shooting on the news. I typically get a numb sensation when these events happen. I realized after Vegas and the recent church shooting I can no longer be silent on the topic of guns. First, I do believe people can have guns, however, I do believe that we need to create stronger gun policies and restrictions. I myself have shot a number of guns growing up and I learned how to shoot guns. I do not own guns and I never want to own a gun. I have people who are close to me who have guns and people who do not have guns. I do believe in gun safety and have let my nine year old son learn about guns (as well as shoot a gun in a safe environment - this was important to me for if he ever comes across a gun what he should or should not do). We as a country need to really get our heads around this and acknowledge the country’s violence related to mass shootings and domestic violence numbers growing. If you are only reading social media memes or blaming and shaming then I challenge you to read about guns and mass shootings outside of your perspective.
For the past five years, I have spoken with students in my classes about my experience at Virginia Tech where 32 lives were lost and the shooter. This semester has been most challenging and the students want to understand due to the recent shootings. I have students bring a variety of articles with opposing sides to have discussion with depth
(Read the article I shared here for strategies to teach a class about active shooting:http://www.sportrisk.com/tag/active-shooter/).
I let students ask me anything and we tend to get in a conversation about how it affected the community, mental health, gun laws, media coverage, and so on. We create a space for dialogue versus debate. I teach my students about how to respond to an active shooter by using videos created by the federal government to Run, Hide, Fight. We enact the video in the classroom and practice the three steps. We discuss how we would respond to an active shooter at a parks and rec soccer game to a large event such as the Super Bowl. I teach my students about awareness and being proactive not about living in fear.
Prayers & Strength after the Parkland Shooting (2018)
As someone who is part of a community who experienced a tragic event, thoughts and prayers are where I always go to first. Strengthening my faith has helped me to deal with these incidents and I believe has made me stronger in finding ways to be actively engaged in the work related to mass shootings.
For me, teaching about safety and risk management in sport facilities I believe I must train my students to come from a place of awareness about possible risks and not from a place of fearing such events. Yesterday morning, I was completing my case study with my students about when I was at Virginia Tech. My heart felt heavy when I first heard about Florida. I will need prayers and strength for my class on Friday knowing we will have more processing to do after yesterday’s events. I believe we need to focus on what all individuals in society can do collectively, for some it will be praying, for some it will be policy making, for some it will be training their staff to be prepared and so on. I worry that if we continue to blame each other and not consider that we all bring different strengths to difficult problems we will all be doing one another a disservice. Know my heart is extremely heavy. When these events happen, I always first turn to my faith for guidance.
How do we make sense of the complexities of chaos? And if even more so, how do we make productive change?
One strategy I discuss with my students is regarding the thinking process for making decisions in challenging times. In addition to our various identities as human beings, we also tend to approach decision making from a certain lens. Some of us will approach from a rules lens, some from an ends lens and some from a care lens.
Kidder (1995) provides in the book titled, “How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical living,” three principles for ethical decision-making:
1. Rules-based thinking:attention here is firmly on what we should do versus what we think might work. We can ask ourselves what the rules should be (ie. for guns, social media, mental health and so on).
2. Ends-based thinking: focus here is on forecasting outcomes and assessing potential consequences. What outcome do we want? What are the potential consequences for the decision we make?
3. Care-based thinking:emphasis here strictly putting the love of others first. The good ole Golden Rule plays a part here: do to others what you would have them do to you. We can ask ourselves, what would it be like to be in their shoes?
The key is to approach a chaotic situation by seeing it from all three lenses.
If we apply all three principles in the midst of the chaos, we begin to work though the complexities of the problem at hand. Seeing the problem through all three lenses brings us closer to an effective approach to determine the right course of action.
We can ask ourselves..
If we do nothing, what are we modeling for others around us? What are the various alternatives to the problem? What would we do if we experienced a mass shooting? How would we support others? How does our decision affect various groups of individuals? And so on.
As we feel ourselves bubbling up with our views related to the complexities of mass shootings, we will need to consider taking a deep breath and halting before blaming or shaming groups and communities that we may not fully understand. We will need to be accountable, to recognize that we see problems from a specific lens and others possibly see the chaos from a different lens. For us to be productive we will need to acknowledge this and we will need to apply rules, ends and care based thinking to bring us closer to the right course of action.
For me it all comes down to doing this hard work with my heart, my ears, my head and my hands.
With loss and times of chaos, my heart will turn to my faith, my ears will listen actively, my head will see a problem through three principles (rules, ends, and care) and my hands will reach to bring people together to enact productive positive change.
To honor all those who we have lost and those affected, let us see the light in the chaos.
From Chaos Comes Clarity
There are days we struggle to understand the reasons why we face divisive times
There are days we long for answers to all the hard questions
There are days we ask for an explanation we may never receive
There are days we have someone wipe tears that travel down our face
There are days we consume ourselves with anger asking why
There are days we reflect about all the good times
There are days we mourn about the moments we will miss
There are days we grieve and others will grieve with us
There are days we spend in moments that get us through
In remembrance of the fallen Hokies (and those before and after), may we see light in the chaos, gain clarity, and ignite action.