Every year at this time, I reflect on the shooting that occurred in my classroom on April 30, 2019, that took the lives of two students, injured four others, and traumatized countless others, both in the classroom and across campus. That day changed my life forever, and three years on, I still have to contend with the aftermath. In this post, I will write in a stream of consciousness about where I am now and where I hope to be in the future.
I wrote about my experiences and thoughts concerning the shooting here:
On April 30, 2019, an ex-student entered the classroom during the last meeting of the semester, during team presentations, and opened fire. The event was over quickly but the effects reverberate through time. I have to contend with the persistent shade of the shooting every day. For instance, I go for runs on the greenways, but every time I pass another trail-goer (who is a man) the thought immediately enters my mind that he will shoot me once I pass. It takes a previously pleasurable activity and transforms it into an anxiety-ridden chore.
I am also sensitive to abrupt sounds and do not go out in public to the same degree as I did before (and still wouldn’t, even without the pandemic). It is much harder to derive pleasure in situations where I would previously find a lot of enjoyment.
The blog I wrote about grief (The Liminality of Grief in Trauma) is still relevant to this day. I still like I am trapped in this in-between space where I’m not fully able to integrate back into society because society has no way to provide social healing for this sort of trauma. Of course, society has also moved on from this shooting since many more have occurred in the intervening years. It seems that for most others, the world kept on spinning and for me, I’m still pulled back into that experience without cause or warning.
One of the things that I find most frustrating, is that despite many shootings before and after the one at UNC-Charlotte, and certainly many more to come, there has been absolutely nothing done to reduce the likelihood of these occurring. No resources dedicated to mental health, no common-sense gun laws, and no policies put in place to protect people. There are a whole lot of thoughts and prayers, which have provided no comfort nor reprieve. It seems that the decision-makers in the country have just accepted that this is a normal part of American life and that is despicable and cowardly.
Despite the trauma and hardships, I am still doing my best to achieve the goals that I have set out for myself. Since the shooting, I have:
- Entered a Ph.D. program in environmental anthropology
- Continued to teach across several institutions
- Completed qualifying exams
- Successfully defended my dissertation proposal and become a doctoral candidate
- Conducted more than 18 months of research
- Given talks at national and international conferences on my research
- Published on mental health and human-animal relations (my research)
In addition to my professional successes, my daughter has come to live with me and is maturing into a kind, intelligent, thoughtful, creative young woman.
I would not have been able to continue on this path without the love and support from so many people, especially my partner and daughter. Every day is a joy because I am part of such a caring and close family. We do so much to enrich one another’s lives and I am a very lucky person.
I also feel fortunate to be part of anthropology. So many people reached out to me with support immediately after the shooting and continue to mentor, support, advise, and uplift me, even after three years. If you are one of those anthropologists, thank you, you have no idea what that truly means to me.
So what is next? I intend to wrap up my dissertation research, earn my Ph.D., and publish my research as a book. I also hope that I can find a tenure-track faculty appointment in anthropology at a university alongside my partner (sociology). I’d love to be back in North Carolina but when in academia, you go where the jobs are. As long as I can keep my family together, I’ll be happy.