LSA sophomore Jenisha Evans was sitting in a high school
classroom five years ago when an announcement came over the PA
system announcing that several students were shot at Columbine High
School in Littleton, Colo. Reacting to the shock, she said the
administration locked down the school for the rest of the day.

Mira Levitan
Michelle Marcotte, whose daughter graduated from Columbine High School, visits a memorial site in Littleton, Colo., yesterday afternoon for those killed in the Columbine High School shooting. (AP PHOTO)

“They wouldn’t let us leave the building,”
Evans said, noting that normally students were allowed to leave for
lunch.

“I thought it was just something out of a movie,”
LSA freshman Jon Strand added.

On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into
Columbine and opened fire with semi-automatic weapons, killing 12
students and one teacher, and injuring several others. But the
effect of the Columbine shootings, described as the worst school
shooting in the nation’s history, spread nationally beyond
Littleton.

Engineering senior Daniel Burlingame said he remembers observing
a moment of silence at Grosse Pointe North High School on the day.
But he noted that soon afterwards, his high school created new
policies that including limiting the number of chemistry
experiments that could be done to avoid explosions.

“A lot less people could just roam the halls,”
Burlingame said, adding that all students needed to carry passes
after the incident.

Both Klebold and Harris concealed their weapons in trench coats,
which Strand and Evans said were banned at their high schools after
the incidents.

Last December, history prof. Matt Lassiter won the Golden Apple
Award, chosen by students for his dedication to teaching. In
January, Lassiter gave his “ideal last lecture” at the
award presentation, where he discussed the post-Columbine media
hype and questioned politicians who blamed mass culture for the
massacre.

“In a political culture that spent the entire decade
celebrating the triumph of free-market capitalism, suddenly a broad
consensus emerged that mass culture was to blame,” said
Lassiter, who studies post-World War II America and the emergence
of American suburbia. “The exploitative media coverage, and
the hysterical political debates that followed, completely obscured
the fact that there was no statistical epidemic of school violence,
that students are far safer at school than they are at home and
that maybe Columbine actually wasn’t a window into the souls
of a new youth generation.”

But Columbine was not the only school that experienced such
tragedies in the late 1990s. In March 1998, two middle schoolers
killed four students and one teacher during a false fire alarm at
Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Ark. One month later,
14-year-old Andrew Wurst killed a teacher and wounded two students
at a school dance in Edinboro, Pa. In February 2000, a 7-year-old
boy from Flint killed a 6-year-old girl with a gun he found in his
house.

As a result, schools began to crack down on weapons policies and
“zero tolerance” became the new buzzword for secondary
education.

Evans said she thought her high school’s increase of
security and implementation of zero tolerance was beneficial for
education.

“It makes the schools more safe,” she said.

Engineering freshman Stephanie Freiwald agreed, noting that
schools needed to enact stricter policies because they could not
rely on all parents to discipline their children.

“Parents don’t pay attention,” Freiwald said,
adding that Columbine administrators had very little foresight into
Klebold and Harris’s lives. “There is not much the
school could have done.”

But Burlingame disagreed, saying he thought clamping down might
just hinder teenagers’ freedom of expression, and possibly
stimulate more detrimental behavior. He added that he thought high
schools and teenagers needed to be more tolerant of different kinds
of people.

“I almost think the closed-mindedness probably fueled the
kids who did the shooting,” Burlingame said, adding that zero
tolerance “doesn’t allow them to be who they
are.”

Strand said he felt the national crackdown didn’t make a
difference either way.

“There have still been school shootings,” he
said.

But Lassiter said he saw zero tolerance as part of a bigger
mission to prevent middle and high school students from speaking
their minds.

“The zero tolerance crackdown includes the random drug
testing of students without probable cause, the surveillance
systems now in place that have turned high schools into miniature
police states and the criminalization of behavior once considered a
typical part of adolescence or a permissible form of political
dissent,” Lassiter said, in January.

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