BY MOLLY SLOAN
Across the country, violence is breaking out in schools. Ever since the pandemic started, American schools have become vulnerable to incidents of threats of violence, physical fights between students, and even school shootings. This increase of violence, coupled with a general sense of anxiety due to the raging pandemic, has created a much different atmosphere in American schools than in previous years. Students feel unsafe and uncertain on their commutes through the hallways, and a feeling of lingering threat reinforces distance between peers.
Just like many schools, Truman is suffering from an outbreak of violence, and Truman students will be the first to admit it. The uneasy atmosphere that has developed since the onset of the pandemic is certainly hard to miss. Most Truman students have formed their own opinions on the spike in fighting. For senior Arwen Como, the regular violence has only contributed to an already unpleasant atmosphere. “The fighting doesn’t affect how safe I feel, as I’ve never felt safe at school,” she said, “but it does make me more aggressive and on edge.” Even for students who aren’t normally inclined to solve their problems with violence, it can be easy to get swept up in the adrenaline rush, which seems to be why the fighting has been such a problem in the first place. One fight encourages another, and so on.
In Truman’s current climate, even small disagreements seem much more serious. In Como’s eyes, there is always another fight around the corner. “It’s made people less likely to compromise and just shrug off offensive comments,” she said. “Students are more likely to swing at each other than talk through their problems like civilized adults.” And with the constant threat of violence hanging over students’ heads, conflict starts a lot more often. The fighting is a vicious cycle, and it creates uncertainty and insecurity among the student body–and unfortunately, this dysfunctional divided version of Truman is the only high school experience these students will have.
This culture even makes students less trusting of their peers. They are more likely to feel angry at each other, and they have no outlet for these feelings. They might even be resentful of the students involved in or starting fights, like Como is. “The fighting is annoying and distasteful,” she said, “as it’s the most base way for the student population to take care of their disagreements.” More than just an annoyance, the outbreak of violence is making it difficult for students to focus and get their work done. “The outbursts make the learning environment feel discombobulated and nearly non-existent,” said Como. Even students who want nothing to do with these kind of spectacles have no choice but to pay attention. An entire school day can be thrown off course by a fight, and when fights are such a regular occurrence, things can only get worse.
This environment makes it difficult for students to take pride in their school, and many of them weren’t all that proud in the first place. However, the majority of students have specific ideas about how to combat this rash of violent incidents. They want their school to be the best it can be, and they are willing to work for it. For many students, violence can be limited by a focus on mental health and positive problem-solving. “Give us better access to our counselors,” said sophomore Cecilia Rancatore. “We have to email them to talk to them, and there are a lot of issues with that, as the email can get lost, or they don’t see it.” This inaccessibility is a concern for a lot of students, who don’t feel trusting of a system that doesn’t seem to care about them.
In general, the Truman student body does not feel supported by the school’s staff, and this can cause all sorts of problems. When students feel unsafe, they are much less likely to reach out to counselors or even friends to share their concerns. Instead, they get caught up in the adrenaline of anger and violence and start a fight. If students had the expectation that they would be safe and supported in dealing with their emotions in a healthy manner, these fights would happen much less often. Junior Emily Neill suggested that fights could be prevented “with more focus on counseling in eighth grade into high school.” By encouraging students to interact and form relationships with their counselors as early as middle school, Truman culture would be significantly improved.
Despite the current negative and violent atmosphere at Truman, the students have proven time and time again that they are ready to find a solution to the turmoil of the past two years. They are open with their dissatisfaction with the school in its current state, but they are just as willing to share their ideas on how to repair all the damage that has been done. Although they feel that their peers haven’t received the support that they need through middle and high school, they are aware of what’s missing: trust, communication, and a safer environment at school. They have ideas for how to solve this problem of violence, and they are ready to share them–whenever anyone is ready to listen.