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Armed Students and Control of the Classroom

by Kishonna L. Gray

Dr. Kishonna L. Gray

Dr. Kishonna L. Gray

Teaching armed students completely changes the dynamics of a classroom and it will alter what you teach and how you teach it. How do I know? Because I’ve done it.

I have had the pleasure of conducting diversity training and implicit bias training to a variety of law enforcement personnel for some time. I am also a professor in a traditional academic setting and I am a completely different teacher in these settings. Why? Because the law enforcement students are armed and mostly resist hearing about implicit bias and discussions around race, gender, sexuality and religion.

While the student populations are different, my experiences are very telling to what will transpire in classrooms in Texas and other states taking similar action. Texas passed Senate Bill 11 that officially allows students to carry concealed weapons on campus. The legislation was largely opposed by leaders at Texas’ public colleges for reasons ranging from safety to dampening of campus speech. More importantly, this bill will impact classrooms.

Challenging students academically leads to some level of resistance and most educators are aware of this. But adding the additional dimensions of issues of power, domination, racism, sexism, etc., causes a level of resistance, because many students have to interrogate their own privilege within these systems of oppression. Students are mostly defensive as a result, assuming the educator is personally attacking them.

Imagine trying to help law enforcement understand Black Lives Matter and issues of police brutality. The result? I have had to end class early, remove certain topics from discussion or debrief with material that pacifies the aggressors. I have even had to remove myself entirely from trainings because of the level of aggressive resistance.

The most disturbing part about teaching armed students is the posturing of their weapons on their holsters. When students become agitated, the immediate stance is to reveal the weapon or place a hand on their weapon. I’ve observed this behavior for years in different settings, but the immediacy of this stance is problematic enough for me to not push a volatile student over the edge.

Thankfully, in dealing with law enforcement, they are trained professionals and I have the luxury of having command nearby to help defuse situations. Professors don’t have this luxury. Professors can’t even assume their armed students are trained in gun safety measures.

As a woman of color whose students are mostly White and male, teaching about topics that directly implicate structures of Whiteness and masculinity, it is close to impossible to continue teaching in a manner that pushes students through the painful chore of critical thinking. They are deeply invested in their privilege.

Teaching and learning are a part of a circular cycle of reciprocation and requires solidarity between the teacher and student. Both have to be willing parties for the formula outlined in the lesson plan to work.

Dr. Kishonna L. Gray is an assistant professor in the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University. She completed a Ph.D. in justice studies at Arizona State University with a concentration in media, technology, and culture in 2011. Follow her on Twitter @KishonnaGray.

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