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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

We should not let our fear cloud our reason

Published: October 1, 2007
Section: Opinions

At the start of the 21st century it is impossible not to be somewhat afraid. Fear has become its own film genre, its own reality television show, its own style of warfare. And after the Virginia Tech massacre which followed the Columbine massacre, which followed the Jonesboro massacreweve become afraid in our own schools. Its only natural to wonder, What if it happens here? What if were unprepared? But as Brandeis quite literally takes up arms against these fears, these what ifs? it is striking that there has been little outcry against enacting a strategy which offers no proven protection.

One would have to be extraordinarily brave or extraordinarily foolish not to have felt a wave of fear, a longing to feel safe, after the tragedy at Virginia Tech. But the lack of an armed security force did not contribute to the death count at Virginia Tech. A series of administrative and police missteps (not canceling classes or notifying students until two hours after the first killings, acting on the assumption that the killer had left the campus or perhaps even the state) allowed the killer carry out his mission.

Its been argued that armed police officers act as a deterrent, that the mere presence of firearms makes the community safer. This is the fear talking. Were afraid that someone will shoot us, so we let it be known that we can shoot back. This is where fear clouds reason. School shooters like Seung-Hui Cho, who in the video he left behind fantasized about re-creating Columbine, do not plan on making it out of their attack alive. Campus securitys weapons would merely be something to plan around.

Brandeis is not Virginia Tech. Our community is smaller, more intimate. Because of this intimacy it is more unlikely that a troubled person like Cho would go unnoticed and, more importantly, unresponded to. At Brandeis we are all aware of being part of the Brandeis community, and sensitive to those who seem not to have quite managed to connect.

I was a community advisor here for two years and, like all CAs, was trained to recognize warning signs and how to address potential problems in advance. All CAs have extensive professional support from Residential Life. Classes at Brandeis are smaller, and faculty members have the kind of contact with their students that allows them to identify those who are alienated or have trouble relating. Nothing is foolproof, but the system for addressing someone like Cho is already in place.

In the two years I worked as a Community Advisor here, all the interactions Ive had with Brandeis police were positive. Im confident that the officers will be well trained in the use of the firearms they will be carrying. But so was the Ohio National Guard at Kent State, when they fired on a group of student protesters in 1970. These trained officers killed four students, two of whom werent even involved in the protest. If at Brandeis we are preparing for the worst actions of our students, history shows us that we must also prepare for the worst in our protectors.

Weapons and universities do not mix. Leaving aside the larger arguments about how the recent decision to arm Brandeis police force could affect Brandeis values or Brandeis as a family, the simple fact is arming the officers will not make our campus more secure. We may feel safer, but we are not.