Metro, Column

Between The Blue Lights: A Reevaluation Of Student Safety

My roommate waited patiently for a response as I glanced up from my tea cup and over my glasses to the doorway she was hovering in. She stood clad in grey sweatpants and a worn Beachcomber sweatshirt, holding a nondescript textbook down by her side. The glare from the text message still reflected on her face, and her eyes darted back and forth from the screen to my glance.

“Did Haley tell you what happened?”

In a matter of keyboard clicks, I was staring at hundreds of headlines, each word threatening the safety of my best friend.

Haley hadn’t told me what happened. The last thing we had texted about was instagram filters and boys from four years ago. There were no mentions of threats, FBI warnings, or school cancellations.

On Sunday evening, all the Philadelphia-area universities were issued a warning by the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) concerning a potential “unspecified” threat of violence. Local and federal law enforcement were monitoring postings on websites and message boards that implied a horrific event, similar to last week’s attack at a Community College in Oregon, may take place on one of the area’s campuses on Monday.

With a lump in my throat, I switched from news outlets to social media. From a quick glance at her Snapchat Story, my best friend from high school seemed to be completely content celebrating the remnants of the weekend with the rest of the girls in her sorority. She had even used the Villanova geotag. All was well. I could almost breathe again.

Some schools issued out warnings, while most upped patrols and encouraged students to report any suspicious activity. Almost all of them retained normal class schedules for Monday, though many individual professors encouraged students to stay home.

Frightening but easily forgotten, events like this seem to be too readily accepted. As a generation that never really saw a pre-Sept. 11 era but instead see school shootings occur almost annually, we know how to keep our heads up through horrific news. Take a moment of silence, hug your loved ones, tomorrow is a new day. We know how to remain unaffected, to cope by creating a political argument or calling our parents.

I don’t know why cities and colleges are easy targets of 21st-century terrorism, but I do know that it is a hell of a lot harder to turn your head from a situation when it involves the safety of someone who is the subject of more than a few picture frames in your bedroom.

Maybe it takes a tragedy to initiate any response, to remind us that even your brick house in Brighton, Mass. isn’t as safe as you may think.

Boston had its tragedy, and has only built a better sense of camaraderie since. At a time when the authority and motives of law enforcement seem to be up for debate, this city has seen an attempted revitalization of the country’s third-oldest police force. Among other initiatives, just last year the city initiated a bike patrol unit focused on reducing crime and creating a communal sense of safety and protection.

Even if effort isn’t politically imposed, this city refuses to be pushed around. Yellow and blue ribbons still adorn walkways and lampposts across Newbury St. and Commonwealth Ave. The infamous Boston Magazine cover hangs in storefronts and offices. Boston reacts and remembers, finding unity and support through acknowledgement of the catastrophe.

Although Boston College sits just five miles from downtown Boston, we have adopted a different take on situations like this. Situations that we have no control over and little warning of, yet have the tragic ability to silence a city or campus.

Although Boston built off its tragedy, we seem to ignore that reality. Between the “Blue Lights,” students walk with their heads down (both literally and metaphorically) and refuse to address a circumstance that could have very well affected themselves.

We came close last year when a similar circumstance threatened Lower Campus. For a few hours, all of campus was quiet. We followed text alerts, called our parents, stayed indoors. We know how the students in Philly felt—we shared their anxiety and fear, and we know how to regain some sense of normal.

Yet there was no official reaching out, no condolences or acknowledgement—just silence. There were no signs or flyers, no community-wide email concerning the safety regulations and precautions that BC students blindly assume we have. You were lucky if one of your professors brought it up in class, although that resulted in only a brief conversation.

How did this go unnoticed to my peers, roommates, and friends when it is a circumstance that hits so close to home? Without acknowledgement, threats like this standardize, making our generation even more unaware and more accepting of turmoil. How did people walk across this campus on Monday, completely ignorant to the fact that campuses just a few hours away were on lockdown?

Tragedies seem to have become current events instead of learning experiences, at a place where being a man or woman for others is so highly revered.

It took me a full 24 hours to regain steady breathing again, to lower my heartbeat and anxiety. Even Monday evening as my best friend and I exchanged friendly emojis and words of reassurance, even after I knew she had swapped her classes for Netflix and the safety of a locked apartment door that day, it is hard to find comfort in an environment and age group that seems to favor ignorance over a constructive exchange.

I don’t know why cities and college campuses are consistently the backdrop for this generation’s terrible threats and realities. I don’t know how to stop them from happening, to repair broken communities or assure a safe environment by any means. But I do know that we can’t ignore what we don’t want to face. We can’t ever stop feeling for someone’s best friend or daughter or son who, like all of us, is affected by problems like this. I do know that even a little acknowledgement or dialogue, especially at the hands of a University founded on principles of care and consciousness, could go a long way.

Featured Image by Matt Rourke / AP Photo

October 7, 2015