Daigaku Z: This Is (not) A Drill

Daigaku Z:

Daigaku Z is a weekly column describing Z’s journey to learn the Japanese language while at the University of Pittsburgh. She impressed the East Asian Language and Literature department with her first-year performance, but she stumbled over the summer semester’s Accelerated Program course. Still, she is nothing if not persistent, and now she faces the second year of the program once more. This is (the continuation of) her story.

The Thursday shooting on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Oregon is the latest tragedy of a type that is far too commonly in the news. Of the twenty school shootings thus far in 2015, Umpqua was the most lethal, with ten fatalities. It is also the most deadly school shooting incident since the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.

That paragraph is sickening to write, and even more sickening to have to write in such a banal, matter-of-fact tone. I can only imagine the utter disbelief that someone from outside the United States reading it might be enduring right now. “Z,” they might say, “surely this kind of horrific violence cannot possibly be as commonplace as your opening has implied it to be. You have to be exaggerating for effect. This cannot be how the young people of America learn– under fire.”

I so very much wish it wasn’t that bad. But at the same time I cannot help but feel lucky that it is not as bad as it is in other parts of the world. It was only three years ago– on October 9th, 2012– that Malala Yousafzai was shot on her school bus simply for attempting to go to school in Taliban-controlled Pakistan. Millions of children the world over who would want to learn are instead pressed into service in sweatshops– or armies. It’s tempting to paint American schools as something more akin to Battle Royale. But it would be a lie. The truth is scary enough.

I don’t need to look too far from home to get a taste of the fear that’s becoming routine in education. Again, in that apocalyptic-in-retrospect year of 2012, the University of Pittsburgh endured 160 bomb threats over two months (mid-February through April). There were no injuries or violence as a result of the threats, but 136 evacuations were enough turmoil that it was a significant disruption to classes. It cast a long shadow over the University, even today.

Thursday morning, during Japanese language recitation, the fire alarm went off in our quadrant of the Cathedral of Learning. We were confused, but somewhat relieved that our phones had not gone off with a shelter-in-place order. While we stood outside, Ninomiya-sensei idly mused about the bomb threats of the past, and we were all notably more uneasy until we went back into the classroom minutes later. There was no explanation. It was, we all guessed, probably just a drill.

Thursday morning. And Thursday afternoon. But the night never ends.