Monday, April 16, 2007


I've never bought the whole business about academia's ivory tower. I don't think that being immersed in ideas and books saves any of us from anything. At most, I think it's a damn effective coping mechanism for a lot of us who have had more than our share of the world. I've rarely gotten through a semester without a female student coming to me quiet and scared to admit she'd been raped and needed some flexibility with course deadlines. I know grad students who give up on their degree because they don't have the money to support their families. I pay attention to all the reports of states trying to pass legislation that restricts what professors can teach. My students have blurted out horribly offensive, racist, homophobic things in my classroom. There is no umbrella here to protect us from poverty, disease, hatred. I do not think this is a place separate from the real world.

But it is, in a very real sense, my temple. I am continually bitterly disgusted and surprised to find corruption and cynicism flowering here. I hold seemingly bottomless reserves of faith in the power of the academic. I think any life is possible for a person who embraces it. I grew up in a town where education was valued by very few, where poverty left many of my friends alcoholics before they'd left for college, if they left at all. My high school had a mortality rate. My sister and I could sit around and talk about the car crashes that did people in on the country back roads. We could, but we don't, because we wouldn't know what to say about a world that's so brutal and so small. I knew, even there, that college would save me. I knew it and I was right and it did not let me down.

And so as I'm reading the blog posts that are going up today about the slaughter at Virginia Tech, I'm thinking about someone on the radio who said he thought that this would be a wake-up call to colleges that they were part of the real world and not protected from violence. Of course colleges are part of the real world. Of course none of us are safe from violence. We are the real world. We bring the violence to campus with us. But I'm outraged that someone would defile the temple, throw away what academia has to offer, take away someone else's salvation. I wonder how many of the dead thought college could save them the way I knew it would save me.

A Virginia Tech professor broke down in the middle of an NPR interview this afternoon. I broke down, too. Not because I never thought it could happen, but because when you leave someone bleeding on a classroom floor, hope and power and salvation are left there, too. That person could have been anyone. That classroom could have made it so.

The photo above was taken by an anonymous someone. It's of Carrie Tower, on my favorite college campus of all.


Blogger redzils said...

Yeah, it is scary and sad. I can only wonder how the rest of our semester is going to go - what will we tell our students when they come back to class on Wednesday....

Thanks for putting this so eloquently - it's a sad and scary day here in Blacksburg.

redzils AT gmail DOT com

7:02 PM  
Blogger Acre said...

redzils, I can't begin to say how sorry I am for your loss there. And thinking of what to say to students, who trust us and doubt us at the same time, makes me instantly teary. From here, I can think about it in abstract, idealistic terms. From there, I imagine there are no abstracts or ideals right now, just the bleakest reality.

7:27 PM  
Blogger Scrivener said...

I think you say here what I would like to say, but much more eloquently than I can manage at the moment. Thank you for this post.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Ancrene Wiseass said...

What Scrivener said.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Horace said...

Thanks for this.

7:27 AM  
Blogger Acre said...

I appreciate knowing that there are others who respond to this kind of thing with the same outrage, so thanks for the comments. Something this far away isn't my tragedy, but it's a tragedy all the same, and I can feel the ripples all the way over here.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Carolingian said...

Thank you for expressing something so horrible so eloquently. University students and faculty across the world all feel this tragedy.

1:16 PM  
Blogger Dharma said...

Lovely post (btw go to you via Ancrene). I loved your next to last line about leaving hope on the floor (paraphrasing wildly).

My mother attempted to lose herself in academia - it was were she felt safest, was most herself. Eventually it turned on her, or maybe she turned on it. It was a refuge from her craziness being exposed since it was expressed in a form prized in that land.

3:03 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home