Young Adult Shootings: A Faith Community Response
by The Rev. Dr. Beth Cooper
Answers to questions raised by the tragic July 2012 Cinema Shooting in Aurora, Colorado, by a student drop-out, need to look well beyond condemnation of senseless incidents of random violence, the need for gun control and explanations of why bad things happen to good people. We extend our sympathy to victims and the families of victims. One cannot fully comprehend such horrific loss.
There is a connection between several horrible shootings that have occurred. Young adults have committed mass shootings in Arizona, at Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University, and several other settings. Each of these involved a shooter who was a mentally ill young adult, who either was a college student or recent drop out at the time of killing. This article focuses on shifts occurring in college settings and what a faith community can do to respond. We seek to understand the cultural context in which shootings are increasing.
In this global culture, young adults are in trouble. Taking action and making changes are appropriate responses. As an 18 year veteran of campus ministry, I implore faith communities to see the bigger picture of what is happening to our young adults and what we can do to make a difference. Faith community actions and a coordinated response of our nation to the pressures faced by young adults are now imperative.
No one can bring back life as we used to know it or magically take away the benchmark that determined life before and after the cinema shooting event. We can hope that in the future, times will be better, especially for our young people. This document explores what is happening for them and how people of faith can help.
Young Adults on Campuses Caught in a Sea of Change
Gigantic changes are sweeping across our university campuses with students who are experiencing losses, pressures, and mental illness in epidemic proportions. The general public has not yet caught on to the repercussions and the impact that societal changes are making.
1. Cutbacks to services related to college and universities because of economic downturn. With larger classes it is hard for teachers to know students personally. Counseling and other helping services have been cut. Not only are budgets being cut but the numbers that counselors are having to see are in many cases doubled from what it was in the 90s. A student needing immediate help may not get it. Typically when students show signs of trouble, they fall below radar and people are too busy to help. People who need services and don’t have the means need advocates and bridges for their recovery.
2. Students are experiencing more episodes and symptoms of mental illness. This is the fastest growing demographic group on campus. One in four students experience depression to the point of not being able to get out of bed. Students need more knowledge of mental health awareness. Parents and responsible adults need to have more face to face time with students.
3. Competition is greater. Students are under increasing pressure to perform. There is more competition for admission to programs. With human knowledge exploding exponentially, cultural changes mean that from the time students enter elementary school, they experience stress and pressure to learn and perform. More people are going to university and college than ever before. With the cutback of services and more students on campus, mental health issues are going unnoticed. Constant threat of not performing wears on mental and emotional health. Students experience anxiety. Without support to help a student put competition in perspective, anxiety increases and inhibits healthy choices.
4. College students are suffering in the bad economy. Students are having a hard time paying increasing university costs that provide fewer services. For students that come from an economic disadvantage, extreme hardship forces students to make decisions that increase risk. Students may choose between eating or paying for gas. Some face a choice between paying tuition and living out of their car, or keeping their room, giving up their dreams of getting out of poverty, and dropping out of school. Those who are the first in their family to be in college may have to cope by themselves if there is no family member or friend who understands the pressures and changes they face.
5. Crucial mental health issues emerge during young adult years. Some mental health conditions don’t show up in earlier years but become evident with young adults. Some mental health illnesses don’t emerge until young adult years.
Young adults may begin to experience personality changes and not be selfaware or want to tell their parents. Some don’t want to see a counselor for fear of being stereotyped or because they worry that mental health issues will prevent them from being successful in school or in their careers. In another scenario, young adults may be put on helpful medicines and then decide that, by putting mind over matter, they can quit taking medications and handle problems themselves. Isolated and without sympathetic and understanding adults around, young adults may not take care of themselves.
For the complete article, including the complete 10-point list of societal changes discussed above, please see the complete article by clicking here. A .pdf reader is required.
For more information about Cal-Pac Campus Ministry, visit the Cal-Pac Campus website at http://www.calpaccampus.org.