Why campuses are locations for violence
By Bourne Morris
In the last few years hardly a month goes by that we don’t come home to a terrible report about violence on a college campus. And these stories, of course, are only part of the overall incidence of national school violence.
In my mystery novels, I have chosen to focus on college campuses because so many are unique and interesting locations for crime. I am writing particularly about campuses set in small town and cities. If you went to one, you may remember a fairly bucolic setting of green lawns and trees and graceful buildings, gathered together on a single parcel of land, near to but separate from the town itself.
These campuses are usually welcoming and open. Anyone can walk in and stroll down the pathways, enjoy the efforts of college gardeners and what is normally the peace and quiet of scholarly pursuit. You don’t even have to be a student or an alumnus or employee. In some cases, you are allowed to tour the library or several of the more public buildings. Doors are left unlocked during the day. People you encounter, including campus police, usually ignore you. So, unless you are carrying an automatic rifle, or are raging and visibly distressed, no one will bother you. Or even notice you.
The average campus is as anonymous as a shopping mall, less guarded than an airport or a bus station. Unlike corporate or government buildings, no one stops you at a desk. No one asks you for I.D, or your reason to be there. In a high school or grammar school building these days there’s a good chance you’ll be locked out or challenged, but not on a college campus.
Don’t get me wrong, the average college campus is probably no more dangerous than the average American small town. But, when we think about the mysteries we have read, doesn’t it seem that the average small town locates the very stuff of violence and treachery?
And as far as my characters are concerned , the same is true for my fictional college campus.
Let’s start with the faculty. I was on a college faculty for 26 years before retiring and I can tell you with certainty that faculty groups are not always civilized and polite. Some people are mad as hell. For one thing, many universities are located in small towns and are the only game in town. So if you’re a tenured professor, or even on track to become tenured, and you are unhappy with your job or angry with your boss, you can’t just walk down the street and get another job at another university. If you want to leave, you have to leave town. And that means selling your house and uprooting your spouse and your kids. So maybe instead of quitting your job, you dig in and wait for change. Meanwhile you’re very frustrated, short-tempered and, quite possibly, resentful because your feelings are hurt all the time. You are a petri dish for an act of violence.
Or let’s say you are a student. Not a happy, popular party loving student or a respected serious scholar. You’re the student who came to college full of hope and expectation and discovered disappointment. After all your dreams and too much of your parent’s money, it’s not working out. But your folks are counting on you to stick it out. The courses are dull and unsatisfying. The assignments and tests are too hard. The other students don’t find you all that attractive. The job you had to take to help support yourself is boring drudgery. You go to bed lonely and wake up angry… every day.
When you think about it, there are plenty of potential villains on a college campus. And I think about it all the time while I’m writing. My first novel, “The Red Queen’s Run” focused on vicious professors and the murder of a dean. My second, ‘The Rise of the Red Queen” opens with the kidnapping of a student by a disturbed man with a grim agenda. And, in the Red Queen series, my protagonist, a beautiful red haired academic is always involved in going after the criminals and intriqued by the handsome detective who helps her.