Three weeks after a gunman killed 59 people at a concert in Las Vegas, many students have not internalized the deadliest shooting in recent U.S. history. Counselors are seeing more students coming in for general anxiety and depression, specifically in DACA and international students, rather than in direct correlation with the events in Las Vegas.
The bustle of campus life barely slowed down, if at all, after the shooting. In the following days and weeks, the Union was as crowded as ever at lunchtime. Students still sprawled out on the grass in Spaights Plaza, and life moved on at UW-Milwaukee. People continue to study and work almost without pause as midterms quickly approach. While horrific, the events of October 1 did not come as any surprise (and less than a month later, came another attack in Manhattan).
This is not to say people are not saddened or frightened, but the effects of a calamity such as this may not be as detrimental as one might expect. It does not mean people are inherently heartless. Unless they have a personal connection, they just do not expect it to happen to them.
Norris Health Center Counseling Director Paul Dupont does not think national tragedies such as the Las Vegas shooting directly hinder the mental health of students, unless there is an actual personal connection. Even now, the majority of students coming to Norris Health Center are mainly seeking help for general anxiety, stress and depression. Dupont believes this is caused by increasing pressure to balance a full school load with work, internships and extra-curricular activities. Students have begun to take on more responsibilities in order to secure a job after graduation that will pay off student loans.
“Our entire society is under more stress,” said Dupont, “and we’re seeing it in students.”
Dupont began working at UWM a month before 9/11. Afterwards, colleagues were unsure of what action to take and wondered if they should be talking to students in class about the attack. During counseling, Dupont says he noticed some clients make reference to it, but they did not dwell on it. Not wanting to overlook the possibility of students needing help, he began randomly interviewing students around campus. When asked if they experienced extreme stress from 9/11 and if in-class counseling would help, only one out of 20 said yes.
“Students tend to see themselves as pretty distant from these events,” said Dupont. “A small percentage is deeply affected by it because they have some sort of personal connection.”
According to Dupont, these sorts of national events elicit two reactions: small amounts of trepidation and uncertainty at the back of people’s minds, and stress or ongoing anxiety that hinders their lives.
Students may seem apathetic for not appearing distressed by these situations. However, this stoic response may be the result of a society where shootings have become a norm. Even for someone with a connection to other shootings, it is difficult to be shocked when history repeats itself.
Molly Hassler, a senior art and design major, was initially frightened when she heard about the Las Vegas shooting. As an LGBT student, she remembers being told that it was deadlier than the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando last year.
“Pulse racked the community,” said Hassler. “For something bigger to happen is scary.”
Hassler had been traveling at the time and attended a concert the same weekend. She feels that this is a larger issue within the country, and she does not necessarily worry about shootings on a daily basis.
“I think about it on a bigger level,” said Hassler. “This was a sniper situation so there was no way anyone could do anything.”
Still, Hassler says she hasn’t noticed a change in mood on campus, and she doubts anything is going to change under the current administration.
“These people are Americans,” said Hassler. “It is terrorism, but it’s an American problem.”
While other students may not have the same connection to past shootings, they mirror Hassler’s doubts when it comes to changing the culture in America.
Melissa Mursch, another senior art and design major, found out about the shooting when her roommates texted her about it.
“I don’t want to say that I wasn’t affected,” said Mursch, “but it happens so much that you get desensitized.”
While she has recently begun to acknowledge the possibility of a shooting happening here at UW-Milwaukee, she remains optimistic that that day will never come.
“I’m young so I feel immortal,” said Mursch. “I’m just a hopeful person and I don’t like to think something bad will happen to me.”
Mursch says she always hopes for change when something like this happens, but she still has her doubts. She says that after so many shootings, it is hard to believe different policies will be implemented.