There was a fight at Manchester Community College last week. Again. And it won’t be the last because apparently people have decided that there is no value in conducting themselves like adults and instead revert back to playground behavior.
This particular bout was between two students of Great Path Academy, complete with flying fists, name-calling and overturned furniture. The tables knocked over rattled the floor so hard that I felt it in my classroom down the hall. For a moment, I thought Connecticut was experiencing another earthquake.
GPA is the regional magnet high school on campus. Students there, in 10th, 11th and 12th grades, come from all over the greater Hartford area. What makes GPA so attractive is that students also get to take MCC courses in addition to the high school curriculum so that when they graduate, they already have some college credit.
It’s a great addition to the campus, most of the time. But sometimes the students there act like, well, high school kids. But they are not the only ones contributing to what I feel is an increasingly dangerous tone on campus.
A colleague of mine had to get a student removed from her class when he threatened to harm her. He was finally removed after he spent weeks disrupting her class with irrelevant comments and other troubling behavior. Over the summer, workers in the financial aid office were threatened by students frustrated with trying to get their paperwork in order. One young woman hurled a string of profanity at a worker and promised to return with a baseball bat if she didn’t get her money. The worst part: her mother was standing right there when she made the threat and didn’t say or do anything.
What has happened to acting like an adult with a sense of decorum in society? With disagreeing with others in language that doesn’t have to be bleeped? With keeping yourself under control or walking away when you feel you cannot?
Is it video games? They are increasingly violent with buff men running around with guns, knives, flamethrowers and body armor, and buff, but scantily-clad women, along for the ride trying to kill others in the most gruesome manner. I miss the days of Pac-man, when the worst thing that could happen to you was that you’d get eaten by a fluffy ghost.
Is it reality television? Every time I flip a channel there’s a “Teen Mom” or a “Bridezilla” or a “Real Housewife” of somewhere, spewing a bleep-filled tirade in somebody’s face, or punching a baby daddy or grabbing a weave. These violent episodes are usually in response to something someone said about someone else behind their back. So in retaliation for words – which can hurt, but are still words – these people are throwing fists and drinks and chairs and whatever else is at hand?
Is it the parents? Setting a good example is important because children are always watching and listening to the adults in their lives for cues as to how to behave in various situations. I’m conscious of that every time I have one of my nieces or nephews in the car with me. The things I might say about, um, careless drivers when I’m alone, I won’t say around them. I’ll bet money that the young woman who threatened to return with a baseball bat learned from her mother that violence and intimidation are okay if it gets you what you want.
I don’t know who or what to blame. I just know that I want people to stop acting like savages whenever they get upset.
College campuses have long been settings for violence. In 1966, Charles Whitman killed over a dozen people with a rifle from the clock tower building of the University of Texas in Austin. One of the country’s deadliest shooting rampages occurred just four years ago at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. In Connecticut, we’ve seen violence take the lives of young people over the last few years at Wesleyan University, Yale University and the University of Connecticut.
I don’t really think that a mass shooting will happen here at MCC. But then again, if I’ve learned one lesson from the last decade since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it is that anything can happen anytime, anywhere to anyone. College campus workers would be crazy to fail to prepare for any number of violent scenarios.
Here at MCC, drills were conducted this past summer to test responses to some catastrophic campus emergency like a shooting, according to the head of campus safety. They revealed what the campus is doing well, and what needs to be shored up. I’m happy to hear it.
But we all know what would be the most effective preventative measure: people getting control of themselves and those for whom they are responsible.
Violence does nothing to make you feel better and it seldom gets you what you want. And in a civilized society such behavior diminishes us all.