Gun Violence in the Writing Center

Thomas Hawk, 'A Stray Bullet from a Hold Up at a Car Wash Went Through This Hole and Paralyzed a Ten Year Old Boy for Life' 2008

Thomas Hawk, 'A Stray Bullet from a Hold Up at a Car Wash Went Through This Hole and Paralyzed a Ten Year Old Boy for Life' 2008


this post discusses incidents of gun violence on college campuses.



…but Hopes are Shy Birds flying at a great distance seldom reached by the best of Guns.
– John James Audubon

As writing center directors from across the country and around the world convene this week at the International Writing Center Association conference in Pittsburgh, they will be discussing the theme of '(r)evolution.' As keynote speaker Ben Rafoth notes, revolution is “both amazing and terrifying,” because revolutionaries “never leave the world as they found it.” The conference’s theme implicitly argues that writing centers are revolutionary spaces, spaces in flux that create change in writers and are themselves characterized by change. Indeed, my co-editor, James Garner, will present at IWCA on behalf of Praxis, describing some of the changes the journal has undergone recently as part of a panel organized by one of our editorial board members, Alanna Bitzel. I would like to suggest an additional topic for deliberation this week.

The topic is gun violence.

At first glance the topic might seem to have precious little to do with writing centers, whether in theory or in practice. However, as proven again last week in Oregon, gun violence is part of the business of every classroom, every hallway of every college campus in the United States. On the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, in 1966, an architectural engineering student and former Marine opened fire, sniping at bystanders for 96 minutes from the top of the UT Tower and injuring 43, of whom 13 died. At the end of the year the Associated Press and United Press International would rank the shooting as the second most important story of the year, the first being the war in Vietnam. There have been at least 62 incidents of gun violence on college campuses since 1966, and the frequency with which gun violence occurs on college campuses is increasing: there have been 45 incidents since 2000, while in the thirty years prior there were 11. In 2010 a mathematics student walked across the UT campus with an automatic assault rifle, firing shots randomly, ending in suicide on the top floor of the main library. The shooter was praised for not killing anyone but himself.



Incidents of Gun Violence on U.S. College Campuses



As I write this I sit in the same building where that young person died, knowing that there have been more recorded shootings on a college campus this year alone than there were in the decade preceding my birth in 1981, and more shootings since 2013 than in my first thirty years of life. With ten shootings in 2013, 17 in 2014, and 8 so far this year, college campuses are beginning to seem like deeply unsafe places.

This is one important point of connection between gun violence and writing centers: physical location. The ideals of the writing center are another. Ideally, safety is the highest aim of the writing center – offering writers a non-judgmental, inclusive, accessible space in which to discuss their work – and while this ideal is meant to make writing centers more effective places for our chosen work, certainly a freedom from deadly violence should be a baseline expectation for every student. Another way in which writing center work and gun violence connect, at least on this campus, is through university governance and policy: the Texas legislature’s recent vote to allow concealed handguns on public university grounds and in some campus buildings may or may not increase the likelihood of gun violence on the UT campus, and it may or may not increase the number of guns on campus, but as the graph above shows, that’s not really the point. Gun violence on college campuses is already incredibly common. The point is that writing centers, along with every other member of every campus community, needs to be talking about this without waiting for another disaster to prompt us.

The amazing, terrifying fact is that gun violence never leaves the world as it was before – instead it irrevocably changes people’s worlds for the worse.