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Say A Prayer for the NIU Fallen

Say a prayer, everyone, for the students and families affected by the tragedy at Northern Illinois University.

I taught law students intermittently from 1990 to 2003, long enough to live through the Columbine, Jonesboro, Pearl, and Santee school shootings. I have to admit – given the high-strung nature of law students, I was starting to get a bit nervous in the classroom over time. As an African American woman professor, I was always being challenged by those who thought I wasn’t qualified to take the podium, and I usually dealt with these challenges by flexing my superior knowledge (a function of time, not necessarily intellect) and reasoning them into submission. I sometimes wondered whether an angry student would try to harm me, so much so that I remarked to my students after one school shooting, “Don’t even think about it. I’m crazy enough to take you out first.”

Not the words one expects to hear from her Property professor. But I was old enough to remember Theodore Streleski.

Remember him? He was the Stanford math Ph.D. student who killed his advisor, Karl de Leeuw, with a ball peen hammer after nineteen years of pursuing his Ph.D. (Okay, anyone – and I mean anyone – who spends nineteen years pursuing a graduate degree is just nucking futz to begin with. But I digress.) Streleski felt de Leeuw deserved it because he had denied Streleski honors and demeaned him and his shoes. (Given what Stanford was like back then, what with everyone wearing Birkenstocks and letting their toe knuckle hair hang out, anyone who felt that his shoes were demeaned had to be nothing but delusional.) I came to Stanford as an undergraduate three years after Streleski acted. Even my freshman English professor, who had known de Leeuw, was still unnerved about the incident years later. Just as the shooter at Northern Illinois University stopped taking his meds, I would imagine that Theodore Streleski either stopped taking his or never even started. Times like these would make anyone teaching students pause and think: Might one of these students – any of them – try to harm me for something I might say or do?

I’m sure some of my former law students probably thought I deserved a brusque introduction to a ball peen hammer, too, especially after a week of the Socratic method and future interests in land. Springing executory interests, anyone?

Are we at the point where we need mental health screenings for all students? Metal detectors at all schools? Because the classroom is the last place anyone should feel unsafe.

Unless, of course, they aren’t prepared for one of my Property classes.

Pray for a solution.

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