Trigger Alert

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)My daughter Ally’s been living in Spain following her graduation from UC Santa Barbara last year. Occasionally, I send her articles about her alma mater, including one about a recent UCSB student Senate resolution calling for mandatory trigger alerts–warnings about potentially upsetting lecture or reading material, such as rape, childhood abuse, or racism, that might inadvertently traumatize students.

Now it is Ally sending me urgent messages from Spain about UCSB. But it’s not words on campus that have upset her.

“Did u hear about what happened in Isla Vista????” read her text.

Of course I had heard—who hadn’t, as Isla Vista joined the long string of names where innocents were slaughtered by an angry and alienated young man with a gun. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook, street corners every day in our cities. And now again, on the streets where my daughter has spent the last several years riding her Cruiser to class, partying on Del Playa, buying snacks at the IV Deli whose plate glass windows are now riddled with bullet holes.

Skype is inadequate for the arms-around-soothing these incidents require, though I tried my best. At least Ally was safe in Spain, where the rate of firearm homicide is less than 1/10th  of this country’s. Toward the end of our conversation, Ally, who has traveled alone extensively abroad, said, “I’m afraid to come home to the United States.”

This breaks my heart. And makes me furious.

The real trigger alerts are the ones we apparently dare not issue—those having anything to do with curtailing the availability and lethality of guns. Almost twice as many gun laws have been loosened than have been tightened since 20 six-year-olds were massacred at Sandy Hook. There have been at least 74 school shootings since Newtown.

Open Carry aficionados wear their weaponry loud and proud. One such demonstration in Texas inspired a mild protest from an NRA member who wrote on an official site that such tactics, which he called “weird” and “scary,” could hurt the gun rights cause. Since his statement caused undue upset, perhaps it should have come with its own trigger alert. So outraged were the highly sensitive (though strangely insensitive) members of Texas Open Carry that the NRA apologized and distanced itself from the offending member by expunging his post.

We do not need protection from words. We need protection from guns, and from those who cherish them above all else.

Homeland Security

UCSB graduation 2013With Janet Napolitano leaving her job as head of Homeland Security to become president of the UC system, I’ve found myself imagining her transition as metaphor. How great it would be if this move symbolized a rebalancing of priorities, with public education deemed as important as anti-terrorism spending in keeping us secure.

Just a few weeks ago, my daughter graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara. She began her college career the same day general strikes were held on every UC campus to oppose slashes in public funding and huge tuition hikes. Protesters were angry that the Master Plan, which ensures affordable, excellent education as a linchpin of California’s well-being, had been betrayed. Over the next four years students continued to pay more for less, in part because of the recession, but largely because of anti-tax sentiment throughout the country. Austerity fervor led to widespread divestment in the programs and institutions that ensure a prosperous and fair society. For my daughter’s California cohort, this meant fewer course offerings, larger classes, more time needed to graduate, and huge debt—if students could afford or find a place among the shrinking slots in higher education at all.

In my daughter’s senior year, Californians, rejecting anti-tax absolutism, passed Proposition 30, interrupting the perpetual cycle of budget cuts and escalating tuition.

When we arrived for graduation, the mood on campus was festive and hopeful. Naturally, I was proud of my daughter as she walked across the stage to receive her diploma. But I was just as proud of the visionaries who devised the Master Plan, and of voters who finally acted to stop its dismantling.

The dream of ensuring opportunity for every student has been tarnished. Maybe it will shine again as we realize that Homeland Security includes taxpayer commitment to public education. After all, it’s one of our best defenses.


This piece appeared July 29, 2013, on KQED’s Perspectives.