20 Oct 2015
As of this date, there have been 150 school shootings since 2013.
I’ve worked in or with higher education for more than a decade, and I love it deeply. Many of those shootings have taken place at colleges and universities, so every time word gets out of another shooting, my heart is sick. I feel helpless, scared, and angry.
And I’m not the only one. There is a deep kinship among people who work in this industry, which is more like a community than an industry, and an attack on one affects us all.
After all, as web professionals, we work alongside our users—the students, faculty, and staff who embody our institution’s missions. And we know the rhythm of a campus. It’s horrifying to imagine that familiar, comforting tempo irreparably disrupted by an act of violence.
In higher ed, you build systems to support the educational experience. And it is often said that the most important system you build is the one you hope you’ll never need.
It may seem strange, but when news breaks of a shooting or other crisis on a college campus, many folks working in higher ed digital communications will flock to the institution’s website and social media platforms. Because that’s the language we know. How are they communicating about this? How are they presenting this information? How quick and how responsive are the messages? How is their website holding up amidst the traffic surge? This is not Monday morning quarterbacking, per se, but rather a form of empathy. There is no judgment, only watchful concern.
After every shooting, the outcry is, “We must not let this become routine.” This is true. We can’t stand idly by and accept regular mass shootings on college campuses as a new norm. We have to lobby, to advocate, to call our representatives, to not let the topic recede into the tableau of “in other news.” But still, there is still so much we cannot control.
One thing that we can control, however, is doing our jobs really, really well.
We can fight routine with routine by building better communications systems and better processes, and internalizing them to the point that they become habit. In these circumstances, by spurring widespread awareness and prompting swift action, communications has the potential to save lives.
This may not be the reality we want, but it’s the one in which, for the moment, we exist. So we will do our damnedest to mitigate the impact of its unfortunate truths.
In the meantime, I know the tally will continue to rise. No. 151 is only days away. And there’s no way of knowing who or when or where. Or why.
So that's why another routine I need to instill in myself is to get mad as hell. To not shut up. To let myself feel that sick, twisted feeling in my heart because it reminds me that this is wrong and abnormal and horrific, that campuses are meant to be sanctuaries of learning and growth, and that no one should die for another person’s hate or pain. And to do this each time until there is no next time.
Do not be complacent. Get outraged. It's our job. It's everybody's job.