New Weapons’ Policy Evokes Anger, Fear

by Kimberely Blackburn
Delta Digital News Service

MONTICELLO, Ark. – Arkansas’ new weapons’ policy brings up memories of the past for one faculty member.[1]

An assistant professor at the University of Arkansas at Monticello said gaining a tenure-track job excited her. However, after she moved, she learned of the new weapons’ policy.

“I want to teach certain books, I want to teach certain things and I’m having to censor myself,” she said. “I’m having to pull back on what I would do in the classroom normally because I’m scared.”

The new weapons’ policy triggers memories of a previous shooting at Virginia Tech. While doing post-graduate work at a nearby university, she learned a former classmate, Seung-Hui Cho, killed 32 people and wounded another 17 in two separate attacks before turning the gun on himself.

Blaming the tragedy partially on herself, she said the attack changed the way she conducts her classes. Remembering behavior she said she will not allow in her classes, she said classmates and professors teased Cho mercilessly. She said the teasing came from his struggle with the English language.

Dr. Richard Wang

Dr. Richard Wang, associate professor of political science (photo by Christopher Lee)

Richard Wang, Arkansas State University associate professor of political science, said the new law changes the climate of his campus. His immediate concerns include the safety of the staff, his students and the faculty, many of whom he counts as friends.

“The law, now in effect, denies me the right to control my work environment,” he said. “I’m not allowed to prevent, to get in the way, to ban concealed weapons carry from my classrooms or my office or anywhere else.”

The assistant professor agreed and said learning by its very nature makes people uncomfortable. Some people display violence when uncomfortable. She said she believes no one truly addressed the reason behind campus gun violence.

Although legislation passed by Arkansas lawmakers took effect Sept. 1, 2017, instructors just received the necessary training to teach the needed classes. The law still prohibits the carrying of weapons in campus childcare centers, athletic events and disciplinary meetings.

Brad Phelps, A-State’s general counsel, said each campus will need to designate a specific area for disciplinary meetings. The area must be cordoned off and there must be 9-hour notice given. He said the new signage, once fully installed, will answer all questions on where guns can and cannot be carried.

The legal offices in Arkansas university system offices worked together to interpret the new legislation. Phelps said they did so in order to ensure all campuses applied the law consistently. Interested parties can read the frequently asked questions on how the new legislation impacts ASU campuses.

Mark Rushing, University of Arkansas’s assistant vice chancellor for university relations, said they held four public forums asking for feedback from the campus community. He said the U of A System considers the law fully implemented on its campuses. Read more on U of A’s frequently asked questions here.

Both Wang and the assistant professor said they considered forms of protest. She said she thought about wearing a bulletproof vest to class. Wang said he considered wearing a helmet or flak jacket. He said he might use humor in his protest because of the absurdity of this law.

The assistant professor said universities spend a lot of time creating emotional support for students. They also need to spend time giving educators the right frame of mind, so they can teach. She said this situation impacts her essence of ethics.

“Do you jeopardize your own standards, do you jeopardize your own morals to keep employment?” she asked. “Do you lower your standards for your students to stay alive?”

1. The UAM faculty member requested anonymity due to concerns about the interview’s effects on potential tenure status.

Featured photo made by adapting wiz72’s “Gun Support” [CC BY-SA 2.0]