During this spring 2017 semester, there was another sad incident on campus. We lost another promising freshman within one year… It happened in front of the main library (PCL) during a busy afternoon hour, and so many students witnessed this graphic scene first hand in their horror.
The unfortunate stabbing incident on campus in early May made me reflect about me as well.
When the incident happened, I was about to start the class in a nearby building. Students who had been locked down at other buildings began to send me messages about their circumstances and let me know they might be late. In the classroom, I waited for late arriving students, and tried to calm down the frightened students. I showed couple short class-related videos for the class while waiting. I told the class that “anyone who might be too nervous or shaken, you may leave the class early (individually), and I won’t penalize for that. But I have received the official notification that the situation has been contained, the suspect was arrested, and there was no active threat on campus, and for now I am going to proceed the class based on that situation.”
But unconfirmed messages about another incidents kept coming to students’ texts. They couldn’t concentrate on the class and many of them were still so frightened. I then decided to let them leave early as there was no point to keep them in the classroom in that situation. Within the next hour or so, the Provost sent out the school-wide cancelation notification.
Although I do not regret that I tried to act with cool head and objective decision-making during that challenging moment, I think I underestimated the students’ fear factor.
I tried to calm them down with the objective information and ease out their fear, but their fear was simply too big. Additionally, the horrible circumstance and associated uncertainty triggered panic and past trauma for many students. The scale of this matter was surprising to me. Students with mental issues or past trauma were so shaken and many of them couldn’t think and behave normally during the following couple days.
Many other students went home and cried. At least one student was too seriously impacted with trauma and was admitted to a mental clinic and could not return to school until the end of the semester. I was so heavy-hearted. Many students sent me emails describing how much seriously they were affected by the incident. I reached out those students by emails to see if they were ok. Most of them recovered in couple days and they appreciated that professor was checking their well-being.
I attended the community gathering on campus along with thousands of other longhorns in solidarity. We mourned together about the loss of Harrison Brown, and shared our prayers and support.
During the Spring commencement, I was relieved to see the happy faces of many of my students on stage. They greeted me with cheers! I hope they can overcome the frightening memory and become stronger and more caring for others due to this experience.