Heather Cox Richardson
Last week, the Arizona legislature passed a bill permitting students to carry guns on public thoroughfares through state college and university campuses. This was a pared down version of a measure permitting guns in buildings, which was too extreme even for Arizona. Supporters of campus carry, though, suggest that yesterday’s measure will make the next step—that of making guns legal everywhere on campus—easier to achieve. They argue that the only way to stop violence on campus once and for all is to make sure everyone is armed for self-protection.
There has been much ink spilled over whether or not guns stop crime, and I don’t aim to revisit those debates here. I would like, though, to deal with one aspect of the campus carry argument that I have never seen addressed. It is to me one of the most significant.
This measure is a blow to female historians in the academy.
We don’t talk about it a lot in mixed company, but women, especially young petite women, face a particular problem in a history classroom far more often than male professors usually do. Female professors routinely have to assert their authority over young men and women whose pre-collegiate life has left them unaccustomed to treating women as authority figures. In history courses, it has been my experience that classes are often skewed toward men; in the more popular subjects like the Civil War, the class may be overwhelmingly male. Every semester, I have at least one student who refuses to accept that he must complete assignments for a female professor, or that he might earn anything less than an “A” in my class regardless of whether or not he does the work.
It’s not just me. Female TAs, especially petite ones, face a constant battle. Over the years, I have fielded complaints that students are in the class of a “dumb” female instructor when they could have the “smart” male TAs instead. I have had to transfer students out of the sections of female TAs because they heckled the instructor incessantly and refused to accept any grade other than an “A”. (At that particular university it was almost impossible to get a student removed from a course.) This phenomenon is frequent enough that I finally began as a matter of routine to give my female TAs tips on how to maintain control of a classroom that contains hostile male students, and to remind my male TAs to work visibly with their female colleagues to reinforce for the students that they stand together.
Unhappy young men, convinced that their female instructor is ruining their future with a low grade, can turn vicious. Over the years, I’ve dealt with crazy rants, threats, and a student who ambushed my every turn over a period of weeks, and I am neither petite nor a pushover. I can think of three times in my 23-year academic career in which I would have been afraid for my life if I had suspected that the hostile student confronting me carried a gun. Let me be clear: these were not your run-of-the-mill angry students disappointed in a grade; these were irrational young men convinced that some stupid woman who had no rightful place in a university and who had no rightful authority over them was destroying their future.
And the members of the Arizona legislature want to let those men carry guns?
With a campus carry law, female history professors become a special kind of sitting duck. I am comfortable with guns themselves—and am actually a big proponent of hunting—but my comfort with weapons stops dead when they come onto campus in the hands of young men who don’t believe in the crazy idea that women can legitimately be history professors.