Campus Ministry Matters

The Safe Places in the World

Every year, I work with plenty of students who are studying abroad for a semester or even a year as part of their college experience.  And many times, I hear that parents are worried or concerned about where their children are headed off to.  Are you sure it’s ok to go to Turkey?  Do you have to go to Israel right now?  And the list goes on and on.  Yesterday, I saw a tweet from someone who I do not know, but who asked whether the United States is really the place people shouldn’t be traveling to rather than us being fearful of traveling abroad.

Their point is clear. As a person who works in higher education, who has traveled to over 100 schools, have met thousands of students, and knows full well the way higher education is valuing international students as a way to diversify campus, I have to ask: are we as a country actually ready to to realize that it may be that we are the unsafe place for students to come.  Just imagine it for a moment.  In the aftermath of the situation in Orlando, as targeted as it seems to be toward the GLBTQIA community, we still have to understand that hundreds of thousands of international students this fall will come to the United States for the first time to attend institutions of higher education.  But should they?  Will they?  How many families of international students today will reconsider sending their children to U.S. Universities because we are still having mass shootings almost everywhere in the United States.

Working in higher education, most of us remember the tragedy of Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, when 33 people were killed on a college campus.  The number of parents I’ve talked to in recent years who fear their children being on campus when another Virginia Tech occurs is overwhelming.  We have moved into an age of fear of other and now the college campus, one of the most important places in American culture for curiosity, critical thinking, and compassion, reflects the generalized fear we have in the rest of the country.  And while we may say that we cannot be afraid and we have to overcome, we also have to realize what we have done in our country by having this situation occur time and time again.

Should we be worried about our American students traveling abroad? Certainly we are and to an extent we should. Americans are becoming more and more targets of international terrorism abroad, and thus we have appropriate questions being asked about the safety of students.  But at some point, we the United States of America, must begin asking if we have entered a time in which it is unsafe for international students to enter our own country to attend universities and colleges.  This is not a call for us to prevent international students from entering the United States, but a pleading for the powers that be to restore an environment to the United States in which people need not ask whether their students are safe on our campuses.

This means also that we must further listen to the voices of all those who are marginalized on our campuses: the GBLTQIA community, religious minorities, secular identities of many sorts, and others.  We must pay attention to how the general culture infiltrates our campuses and we must respond as a country to any threat that prevents our institutions of higher education from being felt as safe for the students.  And you need look no further than the University of Texas, where we now have an concealed carry law that allows some to now carry firearms on a college campus…

The shooting in Orlando has left most if not all of us shocked and saddened.  But as I return today to campus today, it was the tweet regarding whether the U.S. was a safe place to travel to that really got my attention.  Perhaps we are?  But if there is fear, is there is trepidation, then perhaps it’s time for higher education itself to take a further step and call for a change of our policies so as to prevent another person with a semi-automatic weapon from threatening our world.  Because this threat to our world is a threat to the safety on our campuses.

The featured image used in today’s post is an up to date map of all mass shootings in the United States since Sandy Hook. 


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