On Friday, a student at Santa Barbara City College went on a shooting rampage, targeting women throughout Isla Vista and leaving seven dead.
This tragedy, like so many other shootings our nation witnesses, was horrifying, senseless and disturbing.
For University of California students, however, it was particularly devastating. Six of our peers were taken from their communities, each a friend, classmate and relative.
Last week’s violence reiterates once again to students across the state that efforts to improve campus safety and combat gender-based violence must be doubled.
Over the course of the last year, California students have pushed, both on their campuses and in Sacramento, to bring the issue of campus safety to the forefront.
Between the state audit of several public university campuses, including UCLA, for Title IX violations, the federal complaints filed against Occidental College, USC and UC Berkeley, and the 7000 in Solidarity campaign here on our own campus, student safety is front and center at institutions of higher education.
Despite all this attention, it is clear that we, as students, are still not safe.
The shooter proved this to the Isla Vista community Friday night. His actions demonstrated that we are not safe to walk around our college town, to live in our sorority houses, to visit our local deli.
Even more significantly, perhaps, the shooter’s motives send an explicit message to women on college campuses around the state and the nation: You are not safe to make autonomous decisions.
In a self-proclaimed manifesto titled “My Twisted World,” the shooter laid out a detailed plan for “retribution” against women. He wrote about his anger toward them, anger that they had sex with other men and not him, claiming that such choices condemned him to a miserable existence. He said he wished he could put women in concentration camps and watch them starve.
The shooter is not simply a lone, unstable individual who snapped. His decision to target women, his manifesto and everything he wrote or put in video is indicative of a broader problem. His decision to kill was not merely a mental health issue – it’s an issue of cultural misogyny.
This shooting is the worst-case scenario for students who are concerned that campus cultures allowing gender-based violence, whether sexual assault or otherwise, will continue to go unchecked.
In the aftermath of the shooting, debates over mental health resources and gun legislation ran rampant in both print and television media.
But the discussion we need to have about what happened in Isla Vista on Friday is more than just a discussion about mental health care or access to firearms – the shooter purchased his guns legally, waiting the 10-day period and passing a background check. He even evaded police intervention after a welfare check.
The discussion we must have is about college and youth culture. It’s acknowledging how millennials and our society at large view and act out gender roles. It’s the question of how we have arrived at a place, culturally speaking, in which sex is cast as a badge of validity and identity in young men and a source of shame and harm for women.
Evidence of the need for real, difficult soul-searching on these questions is all around us.
It can be seen in the number of sexual assaults that still go unreported on our campus every year. It can be heard when classmates throw out the word “slut,” or say they “raped” a test. It can be seen in the multiple gang rapes that have happened on UCSB’s campus this year.
But even more, it can be seen in the fact that people feel so entitled to sex that they’re willing to force themselves on others or even kill if they don’t get what they want.
Unfortunately, it seems like it is only in the wake of such a tragedy that many finally feel the urgent need to have this type of discussion.
As students, millennials and decent people, we need to reflect on the cultural norms that made the shooter feel his actions were justified. That made him feel that being a virgin at 22 years old was something worth killing over.
Writer’s Note: I chose not to refer to the shooter by name in this column to avoid perpetuating media attention on the individual, which only serves to glorify his disturbed worldview. This attention is better spent focusing on the victims and communities harmed.