There was an incident on our campus several weeks ago that could have ended very badly, but it turned out to be a misunderstanding about an umbrella. It was early Friday morning and an alert went out that someone had been spotted on campus with a rifle. The suspect was located near the residence halls, but everyone on campus was supposed to find shelter.
I happened to be in a room with several other staff members along with a few students and many different rumors were zipping around. While we were locked down a fellow staff member said something along the lines of “I can’t imagine being on the wrong end of a gun or being shot”. I wanted to reply “you may not be able to imagine it, but can you separate yourself from that image enough to relate to someone who has been on both sides of a deadly weapon?” Her comment made me think about our lack of awareness and I can only hope it made a few others think, too. How many students in that office know someone who’s been involved in the war? How many of the staff members there have family overseas with our military? Or, it could be worse, how many people in that room have lost someone due to war? I was lucky, my husband could have been on the ground in the war zone, or he could have been forced to stay in when his contract expired, but for someone else, that comment could have brought up a lot of sad memories.
Although I think every campus should have an office to support veterans, military personnel, ROTC students, and those on campus with military connection, a veteran-friendly campus can start with awareness. Students with military connections, whatever it is, may not want to be recognized, or may want to be recognized, but we should be aware of their presence. Attitudes toward the war(s), current administration, or military as a whole can be communicated in many ways, and we should be aware of how those attitudes can affect our students. Comments, even during times of high stress, can show our ignorance or lack of compassion toward students who have faced some very scary times.
I know I could have had that conversation with my fellow staff member, but it also came back to her identity development and willingness to accept new idea and concepts. I also don’t think it would have been an appropriate time to really discuss awareness of language. But I do think it’s good to keep in mind the multiple identities of our students, which can include some type of military history, background, or connection.
Chelsea O’Brien is a Senior Staff Assistant at Rochester Institute of Technology.