What started out as a class presentation soon turned into a heated debate between myself and 50+ college students.
I teach undergrads earning various business management degrees – intelligent, interesting, ambitious juniors and seniors.
Six of them were presenting on workplace shootings, what responsibilities HR has before and after these tragedies, and how HR can help solve this issue. Here’s how they would solve the issue…put metal detectors and armed security guards in every school and workplace and have everyone submit to a search of their bags. My eyes widened.
When they opened it up for Q&A, many hands went up. I was certain other students would push back on these extreme measures. I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
Yes, a couple students mentioned the metal detectors and searches being problematic but only because of the delays they would cause. Many expressed their agreement. I asked whether the group had considered downsides to these solutions. Blank stares followed by further explanation of how they would benefit employees and students.
I listened but not to understand. I listened in disbelief.
Finally, I asked if I could offer a different perspective. Many employees will push back on these measures and some will quit – people with anxiety, PTSD, depression – productivity could suffer. An employee who has served time in prison and since turned their life around – what impact will walking through a metal detector and having their bag searched have on them?
They said I was wrong. That everyone wants these safety measures and anyone who doesn’t will get used to them. When I say “they” I mean almost the entire class rebuked my perspective. Forcefully.
I was stunned. Who in the hell would want to go to work every day and have to walk through a metal detector? Who would want their child to have to go to school and have their personal belongings searched every day?
I shared my perspective as a parent, as an HR professional, as someone with more life experience…and that’s when it hit me.
I didn’t grow up knowing I could be shot at school. They did. I stopped talking. I wanted to cry. I shared my realization out loud and they nodded. I wanted to cry even more.
Only in the last few years have I come to have real fear about being shot. In fact, while I write this I’m nervous about a student who’s upset with me over a grade. I wonder what kind of pressure he’s under. Will he blame me? Will he focus his rage on me? I worry about that kind of stuff now.
My students have worried about that kind of stuff for as long as they can remember. They’ve grown up knowing that school, and movies, and concerts, and work are all places they can be hurt and even killed. I’d never considered that an entire generation feels this way.
That day in class the real learning was for me.