March 20, 2018

So Many of Us Walk Through the Halls Every Day Fearful

By Allison Tu

Oftentimes, when another shooting hits the presses, it’s framed around claims about the shooter’s mental health. For many people, there is an almost automatic association between mental illness and these horrific episodes of violence. But this is a misconception, one of the most dangerous and pervasive ones in the world of mental health.

Granted, there is a small subset of those affected by mental health challenges who may, at a few critical points, be more likely to engage in violence. But, by and large, those who grapple with mental health challenges are more likely to be the victims of violence instead of the perpetrators. The many factors behind violent behavior aren’t yet well understood, and this complex dynamic often causes easier narratives—that every person struggling with mental health is a threat to society—to slip through.

While we may not be able to explain the psychological factors behind episodes of violence, what we do know is that students are hurting, suffering, often silently, in the wake of school shootings. The holes ripped through the bodies of the Parkland, Marshall County, and many many more of our fellow students, echo in the reverberating holes ripped in the hearts, minds, and souls of the students and communities affected by these events.

The rise and frequency of school shootings has stoked anxiety among students to unprecedented levels. So many of us walk through the halls every day, fearful that an announcement will come over the speakers telling us that an intruder has entered the building.

Just two days ago, a threat against a school with the same name as mine began to circulate on social media. As soon as a friend texted me a picture of the threat, we began to panic. The ten minutes that lapsed before we found a news article reporting that an arrest was made were some of the most fearful of my life. It was one of the first times I have actually, truly feared for my safety. When I tried to pick my math homework back up, which I’d quickly abandoned a few moments before, I couldn’t bring myself to focus. Instead, the possibility of my high school being the next one splashed on the front page of papers and repeated on the radio. The possibility that, in 24 hours, 17 of my friends, or even myself, could be dead, the possibility that I’d never again see the faces of my favorite teachers, were etched in my head.

Aside from this incident, my district has been lucky enough to largely escape the countless threats being levied against Kentucky schools, though we have not escaped their ripple effect. There is no Kentucky student or teacher, or any student or teacher across the nation, unaffected by recent tragedies. I distinctly remember the day, almost two months ago, of the Marshall County Shooting. I was sitting in French class when my phone buzzed and a news alert reading “BREAKING: School shooting in Kentucky” popped up. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Many in my class and my school quickly devolved into fear and anxiety and borderline panic as we imagined what our peers just a few hours away were going through.

On the day of the Parkland shooting, we stared in disbelief, robotically, at the television screen as the death toll climbed up. And up. And up. The week after, when my district implemented a new response system to threats, suggesting that students run out of the building or even actively combat the shooter, throwing cans of food and classroom items so we can escape with our lives, our school became an even more alarming atmosphere of apprehension and fear. When almost every student at our school walked out last Wednesday, so many of us could not hold back tears as we heard the names and saw the faces of lives cut so unfairly, so cruelly, short.

This toxic school climate compounds the already deteriorating mental health among high schoolers. Even before any of these shootings, one in seven Kentucky high school students were already seriously considering suicide each year. There’s no room for us to constantly have to fear for our own lives and the lives of our beloved friends and teachers.

Our focus this far has been to ensure the physical safety of our students, and rightfully so. However, we cannot ignore that being mentally healthy is a fundamental right. As students, we deserve nothing less.

These remarks were deliverd at the March For Our Lives Kentucky Rally organized by the Student Voice Team on the steps of the capitol in Frankfort on March 20, 2018.

Allison Tu

Allison Tu

Allison is a Yoda Corps Advisor of KSVT and former member. She graduated from Manual High School in 2019 and is a student at Harvard University.