EVERY TIME I HEAR ABOUT A UNIVERSITY SHOOTING, I THINK ABOUT THIS STUDENT

UCLA, Virginia Tech, NIU, NAU, Umpqua Community College, etc., etc., etc.
  1. He wrote an essay defending sport fishermen's rights against Native American spearfishing rights.
    I was TA-ing for a Native North America course.
  2. We had watched a film about this issue and he mischaracterized the argument the filmmakers made to support his own position.
    I wrote a lot of margin comments and questions. The grade I gave him wasn't good, but he didn't fail the assignment.
  3. After class that day, he came to the front of the room to confront me and the professor.
  4. He was shaking with anger.
    It was clear that he felt personally attacked by the challenges I had presented to his ideas.
  5. He was shorter than me, with a compact build.
    His hands were balled into fists. He raised his voice.
  6. Even in the classroom, with the instructor present, I was sizing up the situation.
    Could I talk him down? Outrun him?
  7. The professor did very little to de-escalate the situation.
  8. He also didn't have my back about the grade.
  9. The back and forth went on for what seemed like a long time, but was probably only a few minutes. I can't remember how the conversation ended.
    Did I back down? Did we agree to disagree? Was he allowed to revise the essay? I do remember that he was still agitated. Visibly angry.
  10. I left the classroom first.
    My car was in a parking garage a few buildings away.
  11. He was walking behind me.
  12. I was shaken.
    By his anger. By my own frustration that the professor didn't defend me or do more to calm things down or call out this student's behavior as inappropriate. My heart was pounding.
  13. I called my boyfriend.
    As quietly as I could, "I'm leaving class now and this student flipped out over an assignment grade. I don't think he's following me, but just stay with me until I get to my car."
  14. The student turned and started walking in another direction.
    We didn't interact at all for the rest of the semester. I know that I evaluated his work cautiously.
  15. I am so thankful that nothing more came of this.
  16. In the moment, what I feared was being sexually assaulted.
    I bet my fear, and the specific shape it took, never entered the instructor's mind.
  17. Now, I wonder if he owned a gun.
  18. When I hear about a school shooting, I get the same feeling in my gut as I had that afternoon 11 years ago.
  19. I think about him when male students get confrontational in class, or contest a grade with anger in their voices or on their faces.
  20. Can I talk him down?
  21. Could I get away?
  22. Does he have a gun?
  23. Postscript: I wrote this list and hopped in the shower. It then occurred to me that the path I took to get to my car is the T. Anne Cleary Walkway, named for the university administrator who was shot and killed by a graduate student, along with 5 others (including the gunman), in 1991.
    Jo Ann Beard's "The Fourth State of Matter" (Best American Essays 1997) is about this shooting. I read it a few months before moving to Iowa City for grad school.