March 18, 2018

MORADI | When Coming to Cornell Means Grappling With Guns

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“But it didn’t happen,” is the chill response I got from some friends (and my mom!) after learning that we may have been tiptoeing along the asymptote of terror.

Apparently being on the brink of tragedy doesn’t cut it anymore, and why should it? Our generation found perverse unity in the wholly American constancy of lockdown drills, in the nonchalance of backpack searches and school security cameras. If you were to print the Wikipedia page for “List of School Shootings in the United States,” it would be 172 pages long. (For comparison, “List of awards and nominations received by Meryl Streep” is just 35.)

Gun violence is so routine that it’s easy to forget that we’re living in an international abnormality. This kind of carnage is so often presumed to be constant in the U.S. that I was surprised when, while she was consoling me in Klarman on Friday afternoon, Shaina Verma ’18 mentioned that gun violence had been a pretty big factor when deciding whether to come to college in the U.S.

“Even when I was touring colleges, my mom was worried about letting me go to America for university,” said Shaina, who is from India, but went to secondary school in the U.K. “She told me, ‘They have guns. I’ve heard about school shootings, and that could be you too.’”

That’s starkly different from how my family reacted to the news of one of our classmates stockpiling weaponry in his Collegetown apartment. When I sent the link to the story in my family group chat, it was completely ignored and the next message was my mom saying “@Dad can u go to costco?” When I called her Friday night in distress, she told me “These things can happen. You could also get into a car accident at any point. We are risking our lives all the time.”

She’s right, as moms tend to be, but her outlook is extraordinarily grim. And while we’ve set such poor expectations of safety for ourselves, our children and our peers, students and parents across the globe have been paying close attention. Lily Liu ’20, who is from a seaside city in southern China, tells me she was similarly primed to think about guns when deciding on where to go to college.

“We had heard some terrible stories about gun violence happening near some U.S. college campuses,” she says, adding that these stories have real effects on how families come to decide on a university: “Some Chinese parents think Columbia University is not in a safe [neighborhood] of New York; they may be worried if their kids decided to apply to Columbia.”

While gun violence isn’t at the top of every international student’s mind when deciding on whether to study in the U.S. (As columnist Lorenzo Benitez ’19 told me, “I still think I’m more likely to get hit on the head with a coconut.”), a university’s location often serves as a proxy for these concerns. Though Rohin Garg ’19 — who comes to Cornell from India — tells me that gun violence didn’t play a role in his decision, he qualifies his claim by noting, “Ithaca is a pretty liberal town, and Cornell is a pretty liberal university, and so the probability of such things happening was assumed to be low.”

When a shot is fired, its sound travels around the world. And while many of us have grown numb from being folded up under desks in dark classrooms in morbid drills, the rest of the world — including our own classmates — are still alert. How we choose to respond to national calamity or local distress (no matter how liberal the locality) has real and tangible effects on how others internationally choose to join and interact with our communities.

The world is watching, and has been for a while now. It’s about time we started looking harder as well.

Pegah Moradi is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at pmoradi@cornellsun.com. All Jokes Aside appears alternate Mondays.