I Love My Students, but I Won’t Use a Gun to Protect Them

By Beth Ann Fennelly 
The New York Times
6 min



Ms. Fennelly, the former poet laureate of Mississippi, teaches at the University of Mississippi.



OXFORD, Miss. — Before classes start Aug. 22 at the university where I teach English, I’ll locate my new classroom, slip inside and conduct a ritual inspection. It has a practical purpose: ensuring that the chalk board has chalk, the AV has cords, and the desks and chairs are in neat rows.

I have a psychological purpose, too. Convincing college students of the transformative power of literature is hard work. I’m pumping myself up, picturing the room humming with discussion, booming with laughter.

And, in recent years, there’s a tactical purpose. I determine whether the door has a glass plate, and if so, how I’ll cover it. Does the door lock? From the inside? Do the windows open? Wide enough to shoulder through? How far is the drop? I survey the desks, imagine barricading the door, then huddling my students into the “hard corner,” a term I should not need to know. It’s the corner on the same wall as the door, but farthest from the door. The corner where I’ll drape my body over as many of their 20 bodies as I can, like a sea anemone draping an iceberg.

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