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Danger in Higher Education

This should not be among students’ school supplies (courtesy of Jupiter Images)

When most people think of colleges and universities, the same images normally come to mind: classes, professors, athletic events, clubs, organizations, social gatherings, graduation, diplomas… the usual.

These days, however, there are some other images creeping into this picture: guns and violent behavior. And yesterday, these images were reinforced even further.

As sad as I am to report on my home, the Carolinas, I’m afraid we made national news recently because of a shooting on the campus of Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina.

According to the latest reports, an unidentified suspect shot and killed a student in one of the residence halls on Tuesday. The victim was Anthony Darnell Liddell, a 19-year-old from Bennettsville. Following the shooting, the suspect fled and police are still searching for him now. As a result, the school remains on lock down.

Since I work on a small college campus, stories like this always attract my attention because honestly, the same thing could happen here almost any time. No matter how much security you have in place, how well you treat the people around you or how safe you think you are, the fact is that a disgruntled or unstable individual could snap at any time and start “popping caps” into everyone he sees.

I use the pronoun “he” because in most cases, school shooters are male. Heaven forbid that women start reacting violently because life in higher education could be much, much worse.

Just for the record, here are some of the most notable examples of gun violence on college campuses in recent years. They are all cause for concern and taken together, it seems as if a destructive pattern is forming that could jeopardize everything for which higher education stands.

OCTOBER 2002: Robert Flores Jr., a 41-year-old student at the University of Arizona’s nursing school, shot and killed three female professors, followed by himself.

SEPTEMBER 2006: Kimveer Gill, a 25-year-old student at Dawson College, opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon, killing one students and injuring a dozen others, faculty included. Obviously, Gill then turned the gun on himself, which is par-for-the-course in most of these incidents.

The Virginia Tech shooter (courtesy of Reuters)

APRIL 2007: This is the shooting that brought national attention to the issue of gun violence on college and university campuses. I am of course referring to the massacre at Virginia Tech University. 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui murdered two people in his dorm and then went on a killing spree that ended with 33 dead and 15 wounded. The final fatality was, of course, Seung-Hui himself.

SEPTEMBER 2007: Loyer Brandon, a freshman at Delaware State University, shot and wounded several of his fellow freshmen but fortunately, no one was killed. Brandon was charged with attempted murder, assault, a gun violation and reckless endangerment. And this is one of the happy endings.

FEBRUARY 2008: Nursing programs must be stressful because in this example, a nursing student at Louisiana Technical College in Baton Rouge shot and killed two women and then herself. Perhaps anger and stress management courses should be added to nursing curriculums.

FEBRUARY 2008: This was a bad month for college shootings. After the killings in Louisiana, 5 students perished and another 17 were wounded at Northern Illinois University when Stephen Kazmierczak opened fire in a classroom. Kazmierczak was a former graduate student at the university.

FEBRUARY 2010: Amy Bishop, a biology professor in Huntsville, Alabama, was denied tenure a year earlier and responded by shooting her colleagues. Three professors were killed and another three were injured in her attack. I guess denying her tenure was the right decision, huh?

MARCH 2010: An employee at Ohio State University received an unsatisfactory job evaluation and reacted by killing two fellow employees and wounding another. And yes, his weapon of choice was a handgun.

Amy Bishop from Alabama University (courtesy of ABC News)

MAY 2011: Three people were killed in a parking garage at San Jose State University, including two former students and the gunman, who died at the hospital later that day.

DECEMBER 2011: Poor Virginia Tech. During this incident, a 22-year-old student from Radford University shot and killed a police office on the VTU campus. Like the San Jose killing, this also occurred in a parking area on campus.

APRIL 2012: A 43-year-old former student at Oikos University in California, a Christian institution populated primarily by Koreans and Korean-Americans, opened fire on campus and killed seven people, wounding a handful of others.

When you consider these shootings in higher education and then include all the gun violence in elementary schools and such, one thing becomes very clear: even educational institutions are not safe from violent people and violent behavior.

In fact, I would argue that no one is ever safe in this country. Even innocent people trying to enjoy a new Batman film have been massacred by an unstable and violent individual.

You just never know.

I think what bothers me the most about all these shootings on college campuses is that I view institutions of higher learning the same way others view churches: as sacred places that provide opportunities for self-exploration, personal growth and development. People like me may be among the minority now, I’m sad to say. And we’re a dying breed.

Literally.

It’s time to stop the violence, people. And instead of picking up a gun every time you have a problem, I suggest taking a more mature and responsible approach: deal with it. We all have problems. The difference is that most of us tackle them without resorting to murder and suicide.

Feel free to join us.

Munch on This!

funny bondage sex cartoon m&ms

Could kinky candy be next? (courtesy of J.V. Altharas/www.sexualdarkage.com)

In a progressive move, even by higher education standards, Harvard University has just approved a new student group devoted to none other than kinky sex.

According to the school website, Harvard College Munch promotes “a positive and accurate understanding of alternative sexualities and kink on campus, as well as to create a space where college-age adults may reach out to their peers and feel accepted in their own sexuality.”

When it comes to human sexuality, “kink” is normally confused with S&M and bondage. However, it actually applies to a range of alternative sexual practices, including spanking, fetishes, dominance, submission, tickling and yes, even bondage and sadomasochism. The term “munch” is used to describe a safe, low-pressure social gathering for people interested in kinky or alternative sex.

The truth of the matter (courtesy of addacover.com)

The truth of the matter (courtesy of addacover.com)

I can’t say that I’m a practitioner of kinky sex and wouldn’t admit it here even if I was, but I commend the students behind HC Munch for addressing this issue in such a safe, considerate and thoughtful way. The group seems to be open-minded and will not tolerate abusive behavior, discrimination or hazing. In fact, they have even developed a color-coding system for their group announcements: blue events are open to the public, red events are for members only and gray events are unofficial, to name a few.

Whether you agree with kinky sex or not, the fact of the matter is that it’s here to stay and will likely only grow in popularity. Our world is connected more than ever through technology and everyone, including those viewed by some as being sexually deviant, can find their niche.

In other words, kinky sex is global, but at least there are students interested in examining it from a responsible and meaningful perspective. Munch on, Harvard!

Busted By Your Books

Textbook Stack

Ancient history? (Photo credit: greenasian)

CourseSmart Analytics is currently testing an e-textbook service that tracks student study habits and delivers detailed information to teachers and professors.

In other words, the days of ignoring your textbooks and slacking off with regard to your assigned readings may be history, students.

Although this service will not be readily available until 2013, three U.S. universities are currently testing the technology: Texas A&M in San Antonio, Rasmussen College and Villanova University.

Since I have worked in higher education for the majority of my career, and given that I consider myself something of a life-long learner and educator, I can’t help but get excited about this new service. One of the main problems I encounter at the small private college where I work are students who never use their textbooks and therefore rob themselves of these important resources. Now it appears their own textbooks will “rat them out” if they fail to utilize them.

Nothing like getting busted by your books for being too lazy to use them!

Do Your Thing

As part of our extended orientation program for freshmen, the college brought in a speaker to talk to them about success in both higher education and life. It wasn’t until I entered the dark auditorium—a few minutes after the show started—that I realized the speaker was actually a comedian. A funny and sometimes vulgar comedian, but he was definitely the right person to connect with young students. Most of the ones I know seem to enjoy profanity and adult humor, perhaps a little too much.

The comedian, David-something, spent quite a bit of time doing material that didn’t seem to mention college success—or even college at all—and he drew some suspicion from our Dean of Students. Fortunately, he quickly moved past his “warm up” and jumped right into the tips and advice. David even made things interactive by asking questions of the young and sometimes unruly audience, but this was soon interrupted by an insulting student remark.

It was during a stint on “work” and David had just asked a young woman about her worst job ever. Before she could respond, some jackass chimed in with “she was a whore” or something to that effect. The auditorium immediately went silent—David included—and a swarm of student orientation leaders descended on the section of seats where the comment originated. Moments later, the offending student was escorted out by the dean and orientation leaders stationed themselves up and down the aisles. Finally, the show could resume.

David started things up again, but the mood in the place was much more restrained for a while. Students finally loosened up and I could tell David was hitting his stride. All of his “advice” was good—consider the future, get involved, go to class—and he punctuated it with hilarious personal experiences. My favorite involved his first-year advisor, who scared the crap out of him by yelling questions at him the first day they met in his office—“Whose education is this? Whose future is this? Whose life is this?”  Incidentally, the expected response to each question was “mine” or even “mine, damn it.”

The final computer-generated Yoda as seen in t...

His advisor sounded like quite a character. In fact, I believe his name was Dr. Yoder. David made a few jokes about him being Yoda, but the “Star Wars” reference went over most students’ heads, much to my chagrin (I love Star Wars). At any rate, Dr. Yoder must have made an impression on David, who used the same exchange of questions with our students several times, even at the end of his presentation.

Of course, David also told us what his advisor said moments later, once they both sat down to chat. He asked David about his dream career, his passion, and David told him it was to make people laugh. That’s when Dr. Yoder dropped three little words on him that changed his life: do your thing.

I know it sounds like some catch phrase or song lyric from the 1970s—“It’s your thang! Do what you wanna do!”—but this is great and powerful advice.

DO YOUR THING

David talked about the decisions he made that inevitably led to him standing on the stage before us. He used college to sharpen his skills, choosing to major in theater and English, and to get some experience, acting in plays and doing stand-up during open mike nights. He followed his dreams and now does something that he loves for a living.

To illustrate this last point, David shared a story about famed inventor Thomas Edison. In his later life, Edison was to be honored with a lifetime achievement award for his work. He attended the ceremony and when the appropriate time came, refused to accept the award. “I never did a day’s work in my life,” he said. “It was all fun.”

Personally, I thought this was some of the best advice college students—especially college freshmen—could receive: do your thing, follow your passion and work won’t even seem like work. It can be fun and also successful, even financially successful. A little earlier in his bit, David mentioned how Bill Gates’ one regret was never finishing college. And this is a guy who makes millions of dollars each minute!

I hope our students learned something valuable from David and take his advice to heart. I know he made me think about whether or not I truly followed my passion. Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do, but am I really doing my thing? Better yet, are any of us?

It makes you wonder…

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