“We are in a race between education and catastrophe.”
Those words spoken by Janet Jackson in her landmark album, Rhythm Nation 1814, released almost 32 years ago has more relevance today than anyone who think possible.
While people are focused on the damage of woke K-12 educational experts can do to school age children through sex re-education and critical race theory curricula, the shooting on Towson University’s campus last weekend demonstrates a more imminent danger of wokeness in academia – the possible loss of life.
Part of the problem facing administrators who want to pursue wokeness is trying to allow students to live their individual truths while at the same time trying to maintain community.
There are two different aspects which take center stage – age and race.
1) Age, the pandemic, and social trauma:
In looking at the senior leadership of the University, most of the people are in their 40s or above. While this is the norm for higher education historically, a possible issue is one of not fully comprehending the current student generation and their activism, especially after having to go through the last eighteen months of social isolation.
The last eighteen months have been a unique traumatic experience for everyone, but in my opinion, traditional undergrad students and older high school students (17-21) have suffered an enormous amount of sociological trauma.
2) Race and racism:
As an African-American faculty member, and a person who believes in individual merit and responsibility, I am reluctant to mention anything on race. However, I would be academically untruthful if I did not mention the second area of disconnect – wokeness and the fear of racism.
Once again, looking at the senior leadership of the University, only one of thirteen senior official are African-American. It is reported one officer has been put on paid leave, and while the investigation into the incident continues, a more important question should be asked…
Why was a large number of students allowed to congregate on campus several evenings in a row? Perhaps the answer is the University police department did not want to appear racist. In a world of Black Lives Matter, one year after George Floyd’s murder and in the same city where Freddie Gray died six years ago, Towson University did not want to be at the center of the ongoing heated discussion about race and policing.
3) Solution – Reestablish community corms before the next incident happens
The social isolation of young adults, and the reluctance of re-establishing community norms on campus because of perceived racism through policing, has led us to last weekend’s shooting.
While increasing patrols on campus is a start, it does not address the major issue – a change of policy direction where adults act like adults and utilize the academic experience for what it truly is – a opportunity to teach young people so they can grow into adulthood.
In 2014, Robert J. Thompson wrote this on the purpose of higher education to “be responsive to societal needs through doing what colleges and universities are uniquely structured to do: generate knowledge and provide an educational experience that prepares students to meet
societal needs and realize a meaningful and rewarding life.”
What if being woke is robbing our young people of these important educational life experiences? In the avoidance of doing our jobs, and setting standards of conduct, we are losing the respect of our students and the trust of their parents who have charged us with their safety.
One thing I heard over and over again from students is an uneasiness of their safety. Does the campus police department really care about providing safety? Is the Administration providing accurate and truthful information to the campus community? There are a lot of mixed messages and incomplete information being circulated through different perspectives of what happened and what should have been allowed to happen. These are question which MUST be addressed sooner rather than later.
While the academic philosophy of higher education has changed over the last century, there was never any real threat of physical harm to our students. On a suburban campus, whose selling point to students and parents are its excellent record on campus safety, reactive measures with no change in communicating clear standards may cause a loss in enrollment.
As one student said, “I am paying a crazy amount of money to go to school here, I should at least feel that I am safe in campus.”
As of Monday, any member of the campus community who does not prove their vaccination status or be approved for a medical/religious exemption will not be allowed to attend class and/or come to work on campus. If this decision can be made to keep people safe, then surely a policy can be enforced to not allow a large group of unmasked people to come on campus.
It is up to adults to set the standard and enforce it. Our students deserve a safe, secure environment to grow without the possibility of violence on our campuses. If this current path of wokeism is allowed to continue its logical course, there may be more catastrophic violence (unintended or otherwise) on our campuses in the months and years ahead.
Faculty, Department of Political Science, Towson University. Graduate from Liberty University Seminary.