I have had a hard time writing on this blog because I do not want to strike the wrong tone or appear insensitive. The recent deaths of several students has created a strange vibe on campus: people do not know if they should return to business as usual or mourn and think through a radical break in normalcy. As an educator, my first inclination is try to turn this “senseless” act into a learning moment; however, people are saying that it is too soon to learn anything, and we should take some time to respect the dead.
Throughout the quarter, I have been discussing with my Social Science Writing courses the relation between higher education and popular culture. One theme has been how media depictions of class, race, and sexuality affect the lives of students inside and outside of the classroom. We have looked at the social science findings in the book Paying for the Party, and students have done on the ground research on why students do not graduate in four years and what students think about online education. We have found that most students think they will graduate on time until something unexpected happens. These unanticipated events range from failing a course in their intended major or a loss of family finances or a personal health issue or a romantic breakup. Moreover, students report that they would like to try taking an online course, but they do not want to lose the experience of sitting in a classroom together, and they do not think that online classes will help people graduate at a faster rate. Also, students are willing to experiment with online classes for convenience sake, but they still desire a sense of classroom community.
After the murder of six fellow students, all UCSB students are dealing with the unanticipated, and many are having a hard time focusing on their studies. Several students have also protested the role of the media in feeding off of human tragedy and giving the killer more exposure. There is also a debate going on of whether Roger’s views were just the product of a psychotic mind or did his ideas reflect some truths about sexuality inside and outside of college. Since my class has been discussing the role of sexual hierarchies and stereotypes in contemporary media, it is hard to escape the observation that many college going males and females have bought into a sexual hierarchy that victimizes women, even if women “freely” chose to participate in the culture.
During a time when the responses of colleges and universities to sexual assault has become a national issue, we have to ask what role our institutions of higher education have in the social lives of their students. We also need to have more courses that deal directly with the relation between higher education, peer culture, and the media.
Let’s hope we can learn something from this senseless tragedy.