Yesterday afternoon the Durham-Chapel Hill region was shocked by the horrible news that UNC’s Student Body President, Eve Carson, had been brutally murdered. No details have been released concerning her death, but it appears to have been a random crime. All day I felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach–we are all reeling from the loss of such a prominent member of our community.
After I first heard the announcement, I went onto CNN.com to see if the story had made it into the national news, and I was surprised by what I found. I saw a headline reading something like, “College student fatally shot,” but when I clicked on the link I discovered that it was not about Eve. Instead, the story was about a freshman girl at Auburn University, and the details were oddly similar to that of Eve’s death–a young, beautiful college student was found lying on the side of the road, having been shot and left for dead. I couldn’t believe that such comparable violence had occurred at two different college campuses at roughly the same time.
But the more I think about it, the less surprise I feel. Violence on college campuses is becoming the norm. No, these two crimes are not in the same vein as Virginia Tech or Northern Illinois, but the fact remains that violence in universities is escalating. More and more colleges are instituting emergency systems in the event that a gunman is on campus. As a college minister who works on a campus, my school has quite literally trained us to expect just such a catastrophe. It feels as if it is only a matter of time.
What is interesting to me about this phenomenon is that it echoes a trend we saw in high schools, a trend that took full effect about 10 years ago. The shootings at Columbine initiated a new era for teenagers. As a result of that and similar tragedies, students now have to attend school in fear, walking through metal detectors to enter the school doors, and running practice drills in the event that a shooter is on school grounds. For many high schoolers, violence has become a reality.
And now it would seem that the violence of high school has graduated to the university. Instead of targeting their teenage classmates, individuals are targeting their roommates and hallmates. Granted, not all violence on college campuses is caused by a psychopathic student, but universities are simply not as safe as they used to be.
The question is why?
In all honesty, I don’t have an answer. On the one hand, I can somewhat discern the source of teenage violence–high school can be a true pressure cooker! You are trying to figure out who you are, but your peers can be brutally judgmental and cruel, tearing down any shred of self-confidence that you might have had. The race to be cool and accepted is cut-throat, and on top of all of that, you have the stress of making good grades so you can get into a good college. That is a lot for a teenager to handle, so it’s not surprising that some people crack under the pressure, venting their frustration on the students who spurned them.
But college is supposed to be the best 4 years of your life! Yes, you have to work hard, but you also play hard. Even if you’re not out drinking and partying, there are the midnight runs to Krispy Kreme, and staying up all night talking to your friends about the questions of life. It is a wonderful season in which you have lots of freedom without the responsibility of being in the real world. It is the one time in which you can be virtually carefree.
So why are college campuses becoming less and less safe? I am not entirely sure, though I suspect there are many reasons–on a large campus, more students can fall through the cracks; universities are becoming increasingly liberal and hesitate to provide their students with any sort of moral compass; the hedonism that pervades college life is corroding the moral fabric of these young adults; students develop a false sense of security and make bad decisions under the influence of drugs and alcohol–and the list goes on.
But regardless of the reason, this rising violence impresses upon me an even greater sense of urgency in the work that I do. I see more and more students feeling hopeless and fearful, and it is at these moments, when the darkness is greatest, that we Christians can shine the brightest. While this violence is certainly evil, God may be able to use it for good, but it is up to us whether we will take part in that redemption.
So while I may not have an answer as to the true source of all these troubles, I do know this: We can feel hopeless and fearful like the rest of the world, or we can see it as a challenge, an opportunity even, to share the Good News. In which of these two categories do you fall?