Thursday, October 22, 2009

Campus is the wrong place to shed blood

The cops in Storrs, Conn., are expected to arrest a suspect soon in the killing of Jasper “Jazz” Howard, a popular UConn football player who was stabbed after a dance on campus early Sunday.

The yet-to-be-identified suspect would be the second person picked up in connection with Howard’s death, and I suspect this arrest might allay some fears about violence on campus. No person goes off to college expecting to see his campus turn into a scene from the movie “West Side Story.”

But violence is now as interwoven into the campus fabric as the Friday night keg party. Students can’t escape it, regardless of how much they try to insulate themselves from it.

Campus life is just a gigantic slice of American life, so if a farm town in the middle of Kansas or the pockmarked streets of Detroit can see violence visit them, what would make any of us believe a college campus would be spared?

I keep a reminder of that in my mind from the last time I taught a class at Ohio University. It was Winter Quarter in ’03, and I was an adjunct in the journalism department.

Near the end of the quarter, a student came face to face with a thug who, for whatever reason, decided to settle a beef with a handgun. When the gunplay ended outside a campus-area apartment complex, a male student was dead and a suspect was on the loose.

To my knowledge, the gunman was never caught. He might have gotten his punishment in some other way – certainly in the afterlife that those of us who worship God believe he will face. But here, on earth, the man walks free, blood staining his hands.

Yet that murder was nothing like the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007, where a madman with a bagful of bullets and guns went on a killing spree for no apparent reason. Seung-Hui Cho, a mentally-troubled student, left the campus littered with 33 bodies, and his actions changed how some people see college.

There used to be a time when college was a place to go for learning, not a place to go to see cold-blooded murder. Yeah, there were fights; there are fights in middle school, too. But killings – on a college campus – no college has put much of its thinking into what murder might mean. It’s not a lesson they ever taught – or reckoned they would have to teach.

Maybe college killings still are looked at that way, even as schools like Va. Tech, Yale, Ohio U., Case Western Reserve and so many others have had to wash the blood from their campus.

UConn is the latest college that must scrub the blood away. From what I’ve read, the campus is deep in despair over it. The students, the faculty and the staff wrestle with how a dance – a mangling of men and women, all trying to enjoy the campus nightlife – can end up in a killing. Was it too much machismo at play that night outside the student center? Did alcohol turn a typical argument into a reason to kill?

So much of what happened to Jasper Howard, a gifted cornerback from Miami, a young man who was about to become a father, is unknown to me. I don’t, however, need more details.

For what I know is this: A young man was killed. And killed for what? For money, maybe? Killed in a spat over a woman? Killed because of a perceived slight of some sort?

Pure senselessness – all of it. For is this the way we should settle disputes on a campus these days?


(Photo of Jasper Howard by LSUConnMan's photostream)


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