The Illusion of Safety in the Face of a Threat

Jaime Coyne

We’ve spent half our lives mourning Columbine. We’ve watched the horror of Virginia Tech from our own schools. Just a few weeks ago, Northern Illinois University joined their ranks. These schools are now infamous – I don’t have to say ‘school shooting’ after their names for a person to understand my allusion. Every year, we hear of more and more guns found in schools, of schools in lockdown, of innocent victims. Yet we remain convinced that it could never happen to us. Not in my town. Not at my high school. Not at Colgate.

Two weeks ago, we had a reality check. An email was sent out, informing us that a threat had been made to shoot 50 people the following day. To my surprise, few people seemed concerned. Many asserted that they were sure it was just a joke. I hadn’t personally thought there was much chance that something would happen, but I couldn’t help from lingering on the fact that any tiny possibility that there was any danger was still a possibility nonetheless. Colgate remains in many minds an insulated bubble, a safe rural area. But I’ve never felt that I can take the luxury of assuming nothing bad will happen to me. It seems to me that if someone wanted to do something malicious here, he or she would find that our bubble will easily pop.

Most shocking of all to me was the email itself. It essentially said that the threat was made, they didn’t know who had made it and they were looking into it. I didn’t expect them to have solved the problem instantly, but I think in such a situation our campus should take all possible precautions, and certainly not allow classes to be held until they can assure us of our safety.

I checked my email right before going to my first class the next day, but I didn’t receive the email saying that the person had been taken into custody until after that class. Instead, I got to walk past two state troopers parked outside my dorm, and listen to sirens from within Frank. No one should ever have to be afraid on their way to class, and I certainly wasn’t fearless.

And after all that, what changed? Just a few weeks beforehand, an article in this newspaper reprimanded us as a school for being apathetic toward the NIU shooting and not taking enough precautions here. And the events of two weeks ago prove this to be overwhelmingly true. Even when it is our own lives at stake, we barely take notice. The point is not that the threat seemed to be merely “an irresponsible comment”, or that it indeed did not come to fruition. The point is that we should be prepared for the worst, and we should most certainly care. Why does it have to take a dead friend or classmate? Why does it have to be a promise of preventing a ‘next time’? Colgate is no more immune from being struck by the tragedy of a lonely student pushed too far, or an intruder who slipped through the cracks (as probably any visitor here could), than any other college. We should take threats seriously and, while we should not live in fear, we should have the respect for the gravity of past school shootings to be wary.