The recent bomb threats at the University of Pittsburgh combined with the passing of April 16th have caused me to wonder about how you can continue to have a healthy learning environment in the midst of fear. In the past, fear associated with the world of higher ed has been more about the fear that if you say the wrong or unpopular thing, you may get kicked out. But there has often been examples of real fear on campuses, from the events above to the bombings conducted by the Earth Liberation Front/Animal Liberation front.
These events cause students/faculty to become suspicious of their own community, afraid of what they might do to spark off someone or something, or just plain fearful of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Pitt has handled the situation by giving students the option of returning home and completing coursework long distance or of staying on campus and continuing to attend class. But I have to imagine that either option is tough, and that both have a very negative impact on the learning environment. History may not seem so important when you feel your life may be in danger.
So how do we deal? Do we ignore threats? Do we investigate every hint of one? Do we cancel the semester? Do we require students to continue attending class? Of course, every situation is going to be unique, but it seems to me that through the midst of these crises we should do our best to focus on that which brings us together – the pursuit of higher education. Use it as a unifying force in a time of trial… make it a statement of how we will overcome or persevere through anything that challenges us.
Not that I have any idea how to implement that ideal. Perhaps someone else does?