By TERRI LEE FREEMAN
The second week of November was a very tragic week on college campuses. We know that seven students were murdered on college campuses. Three students at the University of Virginia (UVA) were murdered, while one remains in critical condition and another is still hospitalized. Four students at the University of Idaho were found dead in their off-campus housing. As of this writing, the suspect is still at large.
I want to specifically address the shooting at UVA: Five student athletes shot and one former student athlete in custody for the crime. The lives of six families have been shattered in an instant. The lives of all the students who witnessed the shooting have been forever changed. And once again, we ask the question, “Why?” What could have been so critically wrong in this young man’s life that it was worth killing three people and injuring two? Likely nothing that we can think of, but to that young man, he must have felt it was his only way out.
I am not condoning this mass shooting or any, for that matter. However, I find myself trying to figure out where we as a society continue to misstep with our young people. The six families in the UVA were no doubt very proud of those young men. They were athletes, all on scholarship, at a prestigious university. They were living their dream. But in a blink of an eye, their dreams turned into a nightmare.
We know one major issue is the access to guns. In no other first world country is gun violence so prevalent nor access so open. We also know that talking about more restrictive gun laws feels like wasted words. If the deaths of 20 elementary children in Sandy Hook in 2012 or the deaths more recently of 19 school children in Uvalde, Texas, haven’t seemed tragic enough to necessitate any policy changes, the odds that the deaths of three African American young men will stimulate change are slim. I wish I could be more optimistic.
But there is another contributing factor to these tragedies that most of us can agree on. Mental health issues are plaguing our youth and young adults. Our young people are not mentally or emotionally healthy. The stress to perform, to be the best, to make the team, to present your best self on social media, to emulate a celebrity is simply not sustainable. Too few have the ability to cope with life’s pressures. While most don’t resort to violence, it is well documented that young people are not effectively dealing with conditions such as anxiety, stress, and depression.
As a society, why aren’t we advocating for our children? Why aren’t we demanding that mental health evaluations and counseling resources be as important as physical exams? While many universities have extensive counseling departments and provide support to young people who need it, often these issues begin in middle or high school and require much earlier intervention. Many youth in communities of color are not fortunate enough to make it to post-secondary institutions, so they may never have access to those supports. Our young people deserve better. We should be providing them with the tools that help them cope with life in the age of technology. We should be pushing for more counseling and mental healthcare in K-12. Given the preponderance of school violence, support in these grades is not a luxury but a necessity.
While having more mental health resources may not magically solve the current crisis we find ourselves facing, it is certainly a big step in the right direction. Let’s not just shake our heads and send thoughts and prayers. Now is the time for us to advocate for policies that reflect our commitment to the health and safety of our communities and most importantly, our youth. Our children are dying too soon.