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Rethinking Everyday Militarism on Campus: Feminist Reflections on the Fatal Shooting at Purdue University.

HOW DOES ONE MILITARIZE A CAN OF TOMATO SOUP? This simple question, posed by Cynthia Enloe in her important book Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women's Lives (2000), is what brought together the three authors of this article in August 2013. We were each on an academic journey, coparticipants in a graduate seminar titled "Gender, War, and Militarism" at Purdue University, trying to figure out the ways in which militarism affected our lives. Alicia C. Decker came to the seminar as a feminist scholar who had been writing about militarism for several years. Summer Forester arrived as a second-year doctoral student with a deep interest in feminist security studies, informed largely by her own experiences living and working on a military base in Florida. And Eliot Blackburn came to the seminar as a first-year master's degree student with a feminist curiosity about citizenship and belonging, but also with a more personal connection to the subject--his father was a naval officer who had spent many years away from his family in service to the nation. Together, over the course of the ensuing semester, we explored how militarism, as a gendered ideology, and militarization, as a gendered process, have shaped the world around us.

We spent a great deal of time thinking about the militarization of everyday life. Enloe taught us that something as mundane as tomato soup can be militarized if it "becomes controlled by, dependent on, or derives its value from the military as an institution or militaristic criteria." (1) When a manufacturer decides to put Star Wars-themed pasta into their soup, knowing that a busy parent is more likely to convince a picky child to eat their lunch if it contains cool space weapons, then that soup has been militarized. Starting from the basic premise that militarism is all around us, each seminar participant was required to select an ordinary object or activity and then investigate the extent to which it had been militarized, if at all. Through this exercise, we discovered that Sure-Jell, the innocuous binding agent found in popular desserts, has a long history with the military; it is found inside human-shaped targets to aid ballistics technicians in deciding which bullets are the most deadly. We also learned how CrossFit, a popular fitness program, links squats to national security by convincing participants that a strong body and mind can better withstand torture. (2) Even Clarks, now a global shoe brand, designed their iconic 1950s desert boot around footwear worn by Burmese soldiers during World War II. (3) This is not to suggest that these objects or activities carry militarized meanings for all consumers, but it confirms that the roots of militarism run deep and can be found in some of the most unexpected places. The discussions that we had ensured that we were highly attuned to the militarism all around us.

So, when a fatal shooting occurred on our campus just two weeks into the next semester, we were already primed to view the situation with a keen understanding of militarism. While we all saw a campus enveloped in militarism, individually, we each also experienced the situation differently. This essay represents our attempt to make sense of the violence from our respective positions within the academy and our own feminist lives.


As a feminist scholar of militarism, I spend a lot of time reading, writing, and teaching about violence and how it is gendered. My work requires me to examine militarized violence on a daily basis, but somehow I never imagined that I would have to confront this type of violence at my workplace. And yet, on January 21, 2014, I found myself "sheltered in place," the entire university on "lockdown" because there was an "active shooter" on campus. Within the confines of my locked office, I was able to send text messages to loved ones, assuring them that I was safe. I did not know how many people were injured or how long the threat might last. It seemed surreal. As the crisis was unfolding, one of my friends texted a photograph of an unidentified man carrying a large assault rifle underneath a heavy winter coat, the image ostensibly taken just moments before. Who was this gunman? Was he the shooter? If not, what was this person doing on campus with such a powerful weapon? Do campus police officers really carry machine guns? My friend did not know the answers to any of these questions. He, too, was sheltered in place. As helicopters (from news channels) hovered loudly overhead, the university seemed like a war zone, and I felt scared. Less than one hour later, I received an email message announcing that the shooter had been apprehended and that classes would resume as normal. Within a short period of time, I received another email reporting that classes were canceled for the rest of the day and would be suspended the following day as well. The university community needed to mourn, to process, and perhaps most critically, to assess blame. Looking back on the tragic events of that day, it would appear that our reaction to the violence followed a particular type of militarized logic--one that created an "enemy" against whom we could all rally. However, by focusing on the shooting (and stabbing, as it would turn out) as an isolated event on an otherwise "peaceful" campus, we ignore the ways that violence is normalized and reproduced through everyday militarism.

After the shooter was taken into custody, he refused to cooperate with the police. In the absence of a clear motive, the community searched for someone to blame. The most vociferous assaults were leveled at the faculty--those who allegedly failed to handle the situation properly because they insisted on teaching throughout the lockdown. The student newspaper named and shamed particular professors who attempted to create a sense of normalcy in an extremely stressful situation. For this they were lambasted as insensitive and uncaring. The truth is that none of us had been prepared for the shooting. We had not been trained, nor did we ever imagine that such an event would happen on our campus. We were "lucky" in that "only" one student had been killed. People kept saying that we should be grateful that it was not another similar to the April 16, 2007, mass shooting at Virginia Tech. Perhaps that is why the story received only minimal coverage on the national evening news. By the following day, as we struggled to make sense of the violence that had shattered our world, the media had already moved on. This was because, as one reporter noted, "many felt it was just another, run-of-the-mill school shooting event." (4)

Bill Bond, a school safety specialist at the National Association of Secondary School Principals and former principal of Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky, where a student opened fire on a prayer circle in 1997, suggests that "targeted shootings" generate less media attention than those that are "random." He explained, "When it's random and there's no rationale for hostility between the kids, just a completely random shooting like I experienced at Health [sic], where the shooter had no grudge whatsoever against anyone he shot, those strike that national tone." (5) The shooting at Purdue did not generate much national interest because it was seen as "an isolated and intentional act," at least according to John Cox, the chief of campus police. (6) Although the shooting may have been "isolated and intentional," it was performed with great brutality. We eventually learned that the assailant, twenty-three-year-old Cody M. Cousins, walked to the front of a classroom, pulled out a gun, and shot his victim, twenty-one-year-old Andrew F. Boldt, five times in the chest and face. Cousins then took out a hunting knife and stabbed Boldt nineteen times before calmly turning around and walking out the door. One can only imagine the trauma suffered by those forced to witness such a macabre spectacle. I think that it is important for us to reflect on the brutality of the crime, but I fear that by focusing on this extreme violence and the "isolated" nature of the incident, we lose sight of the other types of violence that are routinely supported (or ignored) on campus.

Purdue is a militarized university that promotes war and state-sanctioned violence, probably not unlike other research universities that rely heavily on Department of Defense contracts. The Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) has maintained an active presence on campus since 1888. (7) As a land grant institution, Purdue has always been expected to teach military tactics as well as engineering and agriculture. In fact, until 1964, all male students were required to participate in ROTC during their first two years in college. Female students, on the other hand, were unable to participate in the program until 1973. Today anyone can join the ROTC, as long as they are not openly transgender. (The military considers transsexualism and transvestitism as problematic "psychosexual conditions" that preclude military service, although there is speculation that this ban may be lifted within the next year. (8)) Cisgender, or normatively gendered students, can therefore pursue coursework and engage in training exercises that prepare them to serve in the Army, Air Force, Navy, or Marine Corps. Because they wear their uniforms to class, other students and faculty are accustomed to the idea that the military "belongs" on campus.

The university is also home to the Purdue Homeland Security Institute, which was established in August 2002 to help the nation to "prevent, protect, respond and recover from any threat or action taken against our homeland." (9) They do so by conducting research that promotes the "implementation of new knowledge and tools for sustainable homeland security" and by engaging with key stakeholders such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Indiana National Guard, and the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center, among others. (10) The institute is also concerned with educating and training the next generation of homeland security professionals. Toward this end, they have created the Purdue Military Research Initiative, which offers free graduate education for up to ten active-duty officers per year. The officers are encouraged to participate in existing Department of Defense research programs and then return to active duty upon completion. (11) Students across campus can also pursue a master's level specialization in Homeland Security, with a wide variety of courses from which to choose. (12)

In addition, Purdue boasts an Institute for Defense Innovation, created in 2007 to connect the university's "deep and broad research expertise to end users in the defense community while building needs-focused centers of excellence in support of the United States Departments of Defense and Homeland Security." (13) This institute supports six centers and commands over $20 million in defense-related research contracts. Most, if not all, researchers affiliated with the institute are engineers.

Significant military research is also taking place in the College of Health and Human Sciences. Housed within the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, the Military Family Research Institute works to "improve the lives of service members and their families in Indiana and across the country." (14) Funded in part by the Department of Defense, this initiative is designed to "support the military infrastructure that supports families; strengthen the motivation and capacity of civilian communities to support military families; generate important new knowledge about military families; influence policies, programs, and practices supporting military families; and create and sustain a vibrant learning organization." (15) This institute touts itself as a "force multiplier" because of its efforts to bolster life on the "home front." The university also offers a Military Extension Internship Program, also funded by the Department of Defense, for students who are interested in child development within military settings. (16) By integrating various types of military research into the curriculum, the university normalizes and promotes militarism.

It should come as no surprise that much of this research directly benefits the military-industrial complex. In 2008, for instance, Lite Machines, Inc., a start-up company located in Purdue Research Park, received a $10.5 million contract from the US Navy to develop remote controlled "mini-drones." (17) The company was also listed on the website of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, an engineering professional organization, as a sponsor of the group's involvement in an aerial robotics competition, which featured projects with explicit military and law enforcement applications. (18) Other sponsors included Northrup Grumman, Rockwell Collins, and Lockheed Martin, all major military contractors with direct ties to the university. (19)

Even the campus police force has been militarized. Purdue, along with more than one hundred other colleges and universities, participates in the Department of Defense's 1033 program, which transfers surplus military equipment to various law-enforcement agencies across the country. (20) In exchange for the cost of shipping, Purdue was able to acquire twenty-five M-16 assault rifles. (21) This likely explains the frightening photograph of a campus police officer that I received via text during the "lockdown." As a result of this program, we can expect additional military hardware to filter onto campus in the coming years.

Militarism is normalized on campus in other ways. The student union was established in 1924 as a permanent memorial to those members of the Purdue community who died during World War I. (22) The armory, which houses the offices of the ROTC programs, is also home to the Purdue Rifle and Pistol Club, the second-oldest club on campus. At the armory, members can practice shooting .22 caliber long rifles. They can also store their personal weapons with no caliber restrictions. The club routinely organizes field trips to a large public firing range called Jasper-Pulaski. According to the club's Frequently Asked Questions webpage,
    Once or twice a semester, the club gets together, pulls out all
   privately-owned pistols and rifles (of all calibers :-D), and travels
   to J-P for a day of informal fun shooting. On average there's
four or five
   times more firearms than people who show up. It's a lot of fun,
and a
   great way to meet other shooters and check out their gear. If you
   have any guns of your own, don't sweat it! The other members
will hook you
   up. Nobody ever goes wanting for guns to shoot at Jasper-Pulaski,
   they often go home wanting to buy new ones! (23) 

Given that the club is funded in part by student activity fees and officially sanctioned by the university, it is easy to see how gun culture is normalized (and celebrated) on campus. This is not to suggest that this particular culture is qualitatively different from that of the larger community. The United States, after all, has the largest civilian arsenal in the world, with an average of 88.8 firearms per 100 people. (24) Instead, I would like to challenge the assumption that guns belong on a publicly funded campus in the first place. Gun enthusiasts vehemently disagree and suggest that the Second Amendment grants them the right to bear arms and that the university should be a place to hone their craft. Many, in fact, also argue that campuses would be safer if faculty and students were allowed to carry concealed firearms. In 2013, a group calling themselves Students for Concealed Carry at Purdue University created a Facebook page to advocate on behalf of their position. In late March 2015, they organized a week-long demonstration encouraging students to wear empty gun holsters to class in support of their "right to self defense [sic] on campus." (25) Despite these efforts, Purdue student government has not reversed its 2011 decision to prohibit concealed weapons on campus. (26)

Legislators remain divided on the issue. Only eight states currently allow concealed weapons on public postsecondary campuses: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin. Another twenty-three states allow individual colleges and universities to determine whether they want concealed weapons on their campuses: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. The remaining nineteen states prohibit concealed weapons on campus, although in some states legislators have fought to reverse the ban. (27) Concealed carry laws reinforce the belief that the university is an inherently dangerous place that must be vigilantly protected from all potential enemies and threats. The militarized logic behind concealed carry assumes that guns are the most effective mechanism for promoting peace.

If we look carefully at the relationship between gun culture in the United States, and militarism in general, we can see several interesting linkages. The National Rifle Association (NRA), for instance, arguably the most powerful gun rights organization in the nation, was founded by military veterans. To encourage their participation, the NRA offers active-duty members of the armed forces free membership for one year. (28) By integrating military personnel into the organization, the NRA is able to expand its reach while normalizing the militarization of everyday life. This is important because the group has a vested interest in militarism and directly profits from the sale of guns and ammunition. Some gun manufacturers allow (or even require) customers to make a contribution to the organization with every purchase. Many of these funds are then utilized to lobby for gun-friendly legislation, which in turn, further supports militarism. (29)

Another crucial parallel between US gun culture and militarism is that both are rooted in a gendered ideology that links masculinity to guns. (30) Bushmaster Firearms, a major weapons manufacturer and distributor based out of North Carolina, created an advertising campaign for their .223 caliber semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle using the tag line, "Consider Your Man Card Reissued." (31) In a 2010 press release for the marketing campaign, the company explained how one could become a "real" man:
    Visitors of will have to prove they're a man by
   answering a series of manhood questions. Upon successful
   completion, they will be issued a temporary Man Card to proudly
   display to friends and family. The Man Card is valid for one year.
   Visitors can also call into question or even revoke the Man Card of
   friends they feel have betrayed their manhood. The man in question
   will then have to defend himself, and their Man Card, by answering
   a series of questions geared towards proving indeed, they are
   worthy of retaining their card. (32) 

It is important to note that the rifle promoted in this campaign was the same one used by Adam Lanza in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which resulted in the deaths of seven adults and twenty children. It is the civilian version of a rifle commonly utilized in Iraq and Afghanistan by US forces. Was Lanza enamored by the language of "Man Cards"? We may never understand why the attack took place because Lanza committed suicide shortly after the massacre. However, many scholars have suggested that mass shootings cannot be explained by focusing on individual pathologies alone or by treating such shootings as anomalies. We must focus our attention on the social, cultural, and economic factors that also influence decision-making. Given that men (overwhelmingly, white men) have carried out sixty-one of the last sixty-two mass shootings in the United States, we need to think more critically about white masculinity and its relationship to gun violence. (33) (Note that the Purdue shooter and his victim were both white men.)

We also need to think about campus security from a broader perspective, one that pays as much attention to the security needs of female students and faculty as it does to national security or homeland defense. Purdue is the only university in the Big Ten that does not have a rape crisis center. This does not mean that the administration condones sexual assault or other forms of violence against women. It simply means that they believe there is already an adequate crisis infrastructure in place and are therefore uninterested in deepening tactics for addressing interpersonal violence, unlike their interest in procuring more arms for the police force, for example. While there are nurses on campus who are trained to deal with sexual assault, the student health clinic is only open until 8 p.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. on weekends while school is in session. If a student is sexually assaulted after hours, that person must travel across the river to the nearest crisis center, which is located in the neighboring town of Lafayette. Given that 20 to 25 percent of women will be sexually assaulted over the course of their college careers, this is cause for significant concern. (34) Moreover, if rates of sexual assault are twice as high in military versus civilian populations, and Purdue has a large military presence on campus, then one must wonder who is really safe. (35) Might we use this tragic episode of violence as an opportunity to reexamine campus security from a more holistic feminist perspective, one that focuses as much attention on individual human security as it does on hypermilitarized national security?


The banality of it all was what first struck me. At 12:19 p.m., I was reading about causality in research designs. At 12:20 p.m., I received a text message that shots had been reported in the Electrical Engineering Building on campus; students, faculty, and staff should avoid the area and "shelter in place." I read this message twice. And then some moments later, I heard an alarm siren wailing. I looked at my phone again and thought, "There's no way this means what I think it means. Maybe someone is confused. Maybe the city is testing the tornado alarms." And then, as the voices outside my office door kept whispering "shooter on campus," "lockdown," "have you heard from your students?" I felt the pit of my stomach tighten, and I finally accepted the reality that there was an active shooter on campus. While this last point was subsequently contested--there is a distinction between an "active shooter" and someone who targets a specific person--my fear, my shattered illusion of safety, could not tell the difference.

In the semester prior to the incident, I had read quite extensively on militarism and the militarization of our everyday lives. I had started documenting the countless "little things" that were militarized. At the grocery store, I noticed jars of salsa that proudly displayed their connection to the Wounded Warrior Project. Purchasing this snack, the advertisement proclaims, helps a war hero. At the mall, I picked up a phone case that was touted as the best on the market because of its "military grade" plastic. The phone case is so exceptionally strong, we are told, that Navy SEALS use the product. I could not even escape militarism at the campus gym. Throughout the semester, the gym offered "boot camp" style classes that promised to make students as strong as warriors. While each of these products or services is quite different from the other, they share the common thread of militarism. As feminist scholars of militarism such as Cynthia Enloe, Sandra Whitworth, Laura Sjoberg, and Sandra Via have explained, companies tether their products to the military as a way to elevate their status or worth. (36) As a result, the public is constantly inundated with the message that the military is the pinnacle of heroism, quality, and strength.

With my heightened awareness of militarism in the community, I could not help but pay attention to the ways in which people's responses to the shooting were also militarized. In the moments before the authorities lifted the campus-wide lockdown, I followed the situation via Facebook, Twitter, and online news sources. One professor posted, "It's not a big deal. Somebody's shooting up the campus a little.... Wish I had my shotgun and pistol in my office." Others questioned whether the "bad guy" had been shot. Notions of "good guys" with guns immediately countered the images of "bad guys" with guns. It was clear from these hypermasculine responses of aggression and combativeness and these calls for brute force that militarism was alive and well on campus. (37) The ease with which militarized images and discourses surfaced seemed entirely too common, natural, and obvious, making it seem like our conceptions of security and solutions for handling threats closely aligned with the tenets of militarism.

Similar to the US discourse surrounding the Global War on Terror, security on campus became constructed in a very narrow, hypermilitarized way. The "good guys" in this situation were the police officers and FBI agents who rushed to the scene of the crime with guns and ammunition in tow. In the aftermath, the Purdue community praised their efficiency and lauded their ability to return the campus to a state of normalcy. When the officers and agents arrived on the scene with their heavy arms, merely by virtue of their occupation, we--the faculty, staff, and students at Purdue--were supposed to feel safer, more secure. In comparison, the professors who tried to continue with business-as-usual did not receive any accolades for their strength and resilience during a traumatic time. Instead, they were castigated as insensitive and callous for somehow failing to acknowledge the gravity of the situation. (38) Simply put, militarism frames the debate about whose behaviors and which ideas of security are recognized as valid and legitimate. The logic of militarism demands that community members engage in, or at the very least accept and value, the use of violence and force. (39) By deploying officers with guns, armored cars, and riot gear, the police and FBI were viewed as behaving appropriately because they met violence with even greater force and action. In contrast, those professors, students, and faculty members who tried to maintain a sense of normalcy by refusing to engage in the talk of violence were considered callous, naive, and/or weak.

An unexamined, militarized version of security champions the simple dichotomy of "good guys" versus "bad guys" as the primary approach to ensuring the safety of our campuses, our nation, and our world. An important consequence of uncritically applauding state-sanctioned violence, committed by either the military or a militarized police force, is that these groups become valorized and idolized while their critics are simultaneously delegitimized and effectively silenced. (40) In the days, weeks, and months following the shooting at Purdue, only a few people critically interrogated the responses to the shooting. (41) Indeed, as mentioned previously, most members of the Purdue community lauded the efforts of the police and the administration. Furthermore, in an interview at the 2014 annual conference of the National Rifle Association, the director of Purdue's Homeland Security Institute even called for the arming of professors as a viable option for bolstering campus security in the future. (42) In essence, the shooting generated very little discussion about the degree to which violence is normalized on our campus. It seems, instead, that the administration and community accepted the response to the shooting as appropriate and thus reinforced the notion that "might makes right."

The underlying assumption of this militarized ideology is that police, military personnel, or other individuals who carry arms for the purpose of promoting peace and security will use their weapons, force, and training to reduce violence and increase peace. In reality, however, this assumption is not always correct. Take, for instance, the United Nations (UN) operatives who are specifically tasked with peacekeeping. From Cambodia to Canada, peacekeepers have repeatedly committed acts of physical violence against those whom they are allegedly protecting. (43) A large body of evidence suggests that members of peacekeeping forces sometimes actually cause greater insecurity by perpetrating sexual assault, intimidation, and murder. (44) Put simply, using hypermilitarized forces to respond to threats can promote insecurity rather than decrease it. When we evaluate the evidence regarding violence committed by UN peacekeepers, police officers, and military personnel, we find an undeniable pattern in which those involved in aggressive professions engage in interpersonal violence. If, indeed, the ultimate goal is to eradicate violence (whether on campus or in society at large), then we must think critically about deploying and relying on militarized forces to promote peace. Expecting individuals to easily switch off their carefully honed fighting skills to operate out of an ethic that promotes life and bodily integrity strikes me as counterintuitive. If international peacekeepers cannot refrain from harming others, why do we expect more from other security forces for whom peacekeeping is only a tangential mission? Moreover, since security forces are not inherently more peaceful than the civilian population--indeed, rates of interpersonal violence are higher among members of this group--we should interrogate the assumptions we make about the "good guys" and the use of force as a way of reducing violence. (45)

In addition to conflating the use of force by the military and the police with "peace," valorizing security forces as the "good guys" who have everyone's best interests in mind can lead to an unquestioned deference to their perceived expertise in establishing what actually constitutes a threat. (46) This deference poses a problem, however, given that feminist scholars have shown how militaristic cultures within security institutions can foster hyperaggressive responses to real and/or perceived threats. (47) We saw a glimpse of this hyperaggression at Purdue during a police interaction that occurred just after the apprehension of the shooter. Immediately after news of the shooting circulated across campus, Michael Takeda, the photo editor from The Exponent, Purdue's student-run newspaper, arrived on the scene to take pictures of the event. He saw no indication that the adjacent building was closed, so he entered and proceeded to walk to the Electrical Engineering Building--the site of the shooting--to take pictures from inside. As he left the building, officers bearing no identifying credentials aimed a stun gun at him, forced him to the ground, and confiscated his camera and cell phone. (48) Video surveillance footage shows one of the police officers shoving the handcuffed student into a wall as they walked down a hallway. Given that the police had already handcuffed the student and the student never showed any sign of resistance or uncooperativeness, the officer's actions were unwarranted. Shoving the student into the wall was an act of aggression that only served to intimidate the student and establish the dominance of the officer.

As I reflect on the Purdue shooting and its ties to militarism, I am aware of the ongoing criticism that antimilitarist scholars experience. (49) Thinking critically about militarism is often construed as anti-American, disloyal, and indicative of a naive understanding of national security. But it is important to repudiate such thinking; I remain unconvinced that security can be measured as outcomes--as the number of "bad guys" captured or killed, as the amount of damage that our weapons can inflict. Like militarization, security is a process that involves us all. When we prioritize hypermilitarized responses as the most legitimate, and we overlook or render trivial the everyday insecurities that result from different axes of oppression, we create little more than a facade of security that only protects a few.


The concept of violence has always been present in my life. One of my earliest memories is helping my father polish and place his service medals on his dress white uniform. My father is a twenty-two-year veteran of the US Navy who served multiple tours overseas in support of military operations during wartime. Every other year or so, he would disappear into the depths of the oceans to launch (or practice launching) cruise missiles off nuclear submarines. Since retiring from the military, he has been a law enforcement officer in some capacity, either at the local, county, or federal level. Given his career path, it was no surprise that my father was the first to contact me on the afternoon of the shooting.

Moments before receiving my father's text--"R U ok?!"--I had stepped into my professor's office. Shortly after sitting down, a staff member came by and told us that the campus was going on lockdown and that we were to stay put until told otherwise. On my way to the professor's office, I had crossed Purdue's Memorial Mall and seen police vehicles gathered near the engineering plaza. I had heard sirens, but had no idea what they signified. Given the proximity of the LGBTQ center to the engineering plaza, my first inclination was that something had happened there. When I was president of the undergraduate LGBTQ student group, I was privy to a number of incidents in which students had experienced threats, violence, or other forms of harassment. While Purdue has made great strides over the last two years, the university has a history of being a difficult place for LGBTQ students. In 2009, for instance, a university employee's blog sparked a national debate over free speech rights when he claimed that homosexuality and other "sexually deviant behaviors" caused too much money to be "wasted on AIDS research." The blogger believed that the money spent on AIDS research should "be returned to taxpayers or transferred to more worthwhile areas of public health research such as cancer, heart disease, and combating pandemic conditions like H1N1 flu." (50)

Back in my professor's office, I stared at my cell phone, perplexed that my dad knew something I did not. My professor then informed me that there had been a shooting in one of the engineering buildings. As I began to process her words, more family members began calling and texting to ask if I was okay. I could hear helicopters flying over campus and became instantly anxious. My professor and I tried to keep our conversation as light as possible, but it was useless. Someone had opened fire in a classroom and rumors were flying around social media. Roughly thirty minutes after the incident, I received a message from Purdue's emergency alert system, but the alert contained no useful information (that is, no information beyond what I had already heard). Local and national news stations seemed to know more than I did, even though the shooting had taken place merely buildings away. When I was leaving campus after the lockdown was lifted, I noticed a large number of first responders still on the engineering plaza. I saw trucks and large vehicles labeled FBI, Homeland Security, and SWAT. I could not believe that my campus was part of "the homeland" that needed to be secured.

Having spent an entire semester studying gender, war, and militarism in our graduate seminar the previous fall, it occurred to me that the word "militarized" accurately described the university's response to the shooting. The Purdue community is highly monitored. There are over 138 surveillance cameras placed throughout the West Lafayette campus. When they were put in place in 2011, administrators guaranteed that the surveillance equipment was not meant to track students' comings and goings, but instead to "help make our campus safer by warding off misconduct." (51) Estimated to cost around six million dollars, the security cameras did not prevent the violence that occurred that day. Rather, the cameras recorded it and provided a play-by-play account of the incident. There is also footage from an overhead projector in an economics class that captures the sounds of students as they learn about the shooting. At just under three minutes in length, the video conveys the nervousness in the professor's voice as her students become distracted by police officers outside the window, shortly before they are instructed to evacuate the building. (52) Technology designed to broadcast an economics lecture across the globe now had the potential to turn violence into a spectacle.

Ironically, it was because the security cameras were in place that the aggression from the security forces toward student reporter Michael Takeda was caught on film. As a result of the footage, the public could scrutinize the behavior of the police officer and compare it to the official police report. After the release of the video, a number of discrepancies between what can be seen and what was reported by the police are noteworthy: Takeda did not try to avoid law enforcement, the police did not approach him in a calm manner, and Takeda did nothing to warrant being shoved into a wall. (53) Notably, the university refused to release the video until several months after the incident. Purdue's efforts to conceal the surveillance footage runs contrary to earlier claims that the cameras would make the campus safer. Taken together, these two occurrences--capturing unwarranted police aggression and delaying the release of the video--suggest that surveilling the campus neither wards off violence nor allows for the transparent sharing of information between administrators and students. Quite simply, the events of January 21 highlight the precarious relationship between those who purport to protect and those who are supposed to be protected.

As a member of the "9/11 generation," I am acutely aware of the complicated and problematic relationship between security and technology. In the wake of whistleblowers such as Eric Snowden and Anonymous, many young adults have begun to question the notion that privacy and security are inversely related. According to a Pew Research Center/<I>USA TODAY</I> survey, 78 percent of 18-29 year olds believe that Americans should not have to give up privacy and freedom in order to be safe from terrorism. (54) Although this survey refers to terrorism and not school shootings, the findings suggest that college-age Americans do not believe they have to forfeit their civil liberties in the interest of security. In light of this, we should evaluate the actions taken by our university in the service of responding to or preventing threats. As we have seen both on campus and across the United States, the acquisition of military grade weapons and increases in surveillance have not promoted greater security. In the wake of such a tragic loss of life, Purdue's administration has an opportunity to evaluate its response mechanisms and the efficacy of its current security practices. As they reassess their institutional response, the campus community should also consider the extent to which the university should be monitoring its students and faculty in the first place.


It has been more than one year since a Purdue student brutally murdered one of his peers in a crowded engineering classroom, and, in many ways, things have gone back to normal. The violence has receded to the back of our minds, a painful memory, but not something that most of us think about on a daily basis. The killing was, after all, an "isolated and intentional act." Many of us may feel a sense of relief to know that the perpetrator got "justice." In August 2014, he pled guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to sixty-five years in prison. Shortly thereafter, he took his own life in an Indiana prison cell, a disturbing ending to an already tragic story. Some of us may also feel comforted by the university's response to the incident. After the shooting, administrators formed an eighteen-person security panel to evaluate and analyze feedback from the community about the university's response. In their final report,
    the ad hoc panel confirmed the existence of practices and procedures
   are generally well-designed to enable Purdue [to] respond to crises
   emergencies. To the extent this event revealed a weakness, it was in
   lack of awareness of the procedures in certain cases, thus revealing
   general need for more communication and training about Purdue's
   response protocols. Consistent with Purdue's culture of
   improvement, the panel has identified a number of areas in which
   process enhancements could be made to the University's emergency
   training, preparedness, alert, and response mechanisms. (55) 

The report noted that the university may form an "Implementation Panel" to evaluate the first panel's recommendations and, if deemed necessary, to develop plans for their implementation.

Most of their recommendations dealt with increasing communication across campus in the event of an emergency, as well as making sure that everyone received proper training on crisis response protocols. The panel also recommended a number of infrastructural improvements, such as putting enhanced locks on classroom doors and installing Alertus beacon devices in large classrooms with poor Wi-Fi or cell phone reception, as well as raising awareness about mental illness on campus. These solutions may be a good start, but they certainly do very little to address the culture of violence that is promoted through everyday militarism at the university. If we do not take militarism on campus seriously, can it ever become the "extraordinarily safe place" that President Mitch Daniels described just days after the shooting? (56)

To be sure, taking militarism on campus seriously requires all of us to pay close attention to the blurring of lines between civilian and military authority. A number of universities have appointed former military personnel and Department of Homeland Security officials as the overseers of state university systems (e.g., Janet Napolitano in California and William McRaven in Texas), as university presidents (e.g., Robert Gates at Texas A&M University), and as members of boards of trustees. We need to question these appointments and the effect they have on our universities. Does promoting former military and defense specialists to positions of power further entrench the notion that cooperating and partnering with the military makes an institution more "serious" or more "legitimate"? If so, how might this affect our teaching and scholarship? How does the appointment of militarized women and men to positions of power reinforce the notion that the world is inherently dangerous and that the academy is the best place to groom young women and men for war? Finally, we should use our feminist curiosity to think carefully about how the militarization of the academy promotes militarized responses by campus police officers and the administration more generally.

Although militarism did not directly cause the unfortunate event at Purdue University, it has provided us with an opportunity to begin making sense of the ways in which violence is normalized (and sometimes even celebrated) on college campuses. It makes us wonder why some kinds of violence are seen as tragic, while others are patriotic, mundane, or even ignored. It also makes us question why certain kinds of security are valued more highly than others. For example, should concern for national security trump human security, even though campus rape is far more common than other kinds of security threats? Or might there be a way for feminist scholars, students, and activists to help administrators see that sexual violence is also a significant security threat, one that is worthy of its own crisis response protocol? The shooting at Purdue was indeed a tragedy, but as we have demonstrated throughout this essay, violence on campus is not an aberration. It is an integral part of our research, our teaching, and our engagement with the larger community. This is the specter of everyday militarism.


The authors would like to thank Cheryl O'Brien for her useful feedback on an earlier draft of this work. We also wish to thank the anonymous reviewers, as well as the Feminist Studies editorial team.

(1.) Cynthia Enloe, Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women's Lives (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 291 (emphasis in original).

(2.) Andrew Thompson and Anthony Budding, "CrossFit, Stoicism, and an American Prisoner of War," CrossFit Journal 28 (December 2004): 1-2.

(3.) Mark Palmer, "The Boots That Built an Empire: The Unlikely Success Story behind Fashion Must-Have Worn by Sex and the City Stars," Daily Mail, July 1, 2011, The-boots-built-empire-The-unlikely-success-story-fashion-worn-Sex-And-The-City-stars.html.

(4.) Colleen Curry, "What the Purdue Shooting Tells Us About Gun Violence Fatigue," ABC News, January 22, 2014, /2014/01/what-the-purdue-shooting-tells-us-about-gun-violence-fatigue.

(5.) Bill Bond, quoted in Curry, "What the Purdue Shooting Tells Us."

(6.) Jason Hanna, Deanna Hackney, and Greg Botelho, "Purdue Shooting Suspect Surrenders after Allegedly Killing Fellow Student," CNN, January 22, 2014,

(7.) Before the Reserve Officers' Training Corps was officially authorized by the National Defense Act of June 3, 1916, the military program on campus was known as The Corp. For details about the military's history on campus, see Purdue University Army ROTC, "History," /overview/history.php.

(8.) Join the Military, "Medical Conditions That May Prevent You from Joining the Military," See also Nick Visser, "Veterans Affairs Opens First Clinic for Transgender Service Members," Huffington Post, November 12, 2015,

(9.) Purdue Homeland Security Institute, "Home," /discoverypark/phsi/index.php.

(10.) A State of Defense, "Purdue University," /purdue-university.html. See also Purdue Homeland Security Institute, "PHSI Partners,"

(11.) Purdue Homeland Security Institute, "Purdue Military Research Initiative,"

(12.) Purdue Homeland Security Institute, "Graduate Level Programs," http://; and "Homeland Security Related Courses," /phsi/learning/homeland-security.php.

(13.) Institute for Defense Innovation, "Director's Message," /research/vpr/idi/director.php.

(14.) The Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University, "The Mission,"

(15.) Ibid.

(16.) Military Extension Internship Program, "Home," /military/index.html.

(17.) Fran Quigley, "Purdue and the 'Flying Grenades,'" Bloomington Alternative, November 24, 2010, /11/24/10607.

(18.) Tithi Bhattacharya, "How Our Universities Teach Violence," Socialist Worker, January 30, 2014,

(19.) Fran Quigley, "EnerDel, Purdue Help Develop UAVs," Bloomington Alternative, December 10, 2010, /12/10/10613.

(20.) Dan Bauman, "On Campus, Grenade Launchers, M-16S, and Armored Vehicles," Chronicle of Higher Education, September 11, 2014, /article/On-Campus-Grenade-Launchers/148749.

(21.) "The Equipment 117 Colleges Have Acquired from the Dept, of Defense," Chronicle of Higher Education, September 11, 2014, /Table-The-Equipment-117/148753.

(22.) Purdue Memorial Union, "History," /about/Index.html#history.

(23.) Purdue Rifle and Pistol Club, "FAQ," /FAQ.html.

(24.) Small Arms Survey, Small Arms Survey 2007: Guns and the City (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), Chapter 2, Annexe 4, fileadmin/docs/A-Yearbook/2007/en/Small-Arms-Survey-2007-Chapter-02-annexe-4-EN.pdf.

(25.) Students for Concealed Carry at Purdue University, "Timeline," March 28, 2015,

(26.) Megan Tarter, "Concealed Carry of Weapons Still Prohibited on Campus, Despite New Data and Opposing Opinions," The Exponent, January 21, 2015,

(27.) National Conference of State Legislators, "Guns on Campus: Overview," October 5, 2015,

(28.) National Rifle Association, "Building the 21st Century NRA!" November 27, 2012, december-2012-americas-1st-freedom-cover-story-building-the-21st-century-nra.

(29.) Luigi Esposito and Laura L. Finley, "Beyond Gun Control: Examining Neoliberalism, Pro-Gun Politics, and Gun Violence in the United States," Theory in Action 7, no. 2 (2014): 82. See also Lee Fang, "The NRA and Gun Companies Stand to Profit from Newtown Tragedy," The Nation, December 24, 2012,

(30.) There is a rich body of feminist scholarship exploring the relationship between gender and militarism. See, for example, Cynthia Enloe, Does Khaki Become You? The Militarization of Women's Lives (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1983); Enloe, Maneuvers; Lynne Segal, "Gender, War, and Militarism: Making and Questioning the Links," Feminist Review 88 (2008): 21-35; Amina Mama and Margo Okazawa-Rey, "Militarism, Conflict, and Women's Activism in the Global Era: Challenges and Prospects for Women in Three West African Contexts," Feminist Review 101, no. 1 (2012): 97-123; and Alicia C. Decker, In Idi Amin's Shadow: Women, Gender, and Militarism in Uganda (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2014).

(31.) Emma Gray, "Bushmaster Rifle Ad Reminds Us to Ask More about Masculinity and Gun Violence," Huffington Post, December 17, 2012, http://www.huffing

(32.) Bushmaster Firearms 2010 press release, quoted in Gray, "Bushmaster Rifle Ad."

(33.) Michael Kimmel and Cliff Leek, "The Unbearable Whiteness of Suicide-by-Mass-Murder," Huffington Post, December 23, 2012, html. See also Douglas Kellner, Guys and Guns Amok: Domestic Terrorism and School Shootings from the Oklahoma City Bombing to the Virginia Tech Massacre (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008); Tim Wise, "Race, Class, Violence, and Denial: Mass Murder and the Pathologies of Privilege," Tim Wise (blog), December 17, 2012, race-class-violence-and-denial-mass-murder-and-the-pathologies-of-privilege; Michael Kimmel,

"Masculinity, Mental Illness and Guns: A Lethal Equation?" CNN, December 19, 2012,; Jackson Katz and Jeremy Earp, Tough Guise 2: Violence, Manhood, & American Culture (Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation, 2013), DVD; and Esposito and Finley, "Beyond Gun Control," 86-89.

(34.) Bonnie S. Fisher, Francis T. Cullen, and Michael G. Turner, The Sexual Victimization of College Women (Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, 2000), 10.

(35.) "Sexual Assaults and Military Justice," New York Times, March 12, 2013,

(36.) Enloe, Maneuvers; Sandra Whitworth, Men, Militarism, and UN Peacekeeping: A Gendered Analysis (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2004); and Laura Sjoberg and Sandra Via, eds., Gender, Militarism, and War: Feminist Perspectives (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2010).

(37.) Cynthia Enloe, Globalization and Militarism (Boston, MA: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007). See also Decker, In Idi Amin's Shadow.

(38.) "Professors Deliberately Ignore Shooting, Endanger Students," Purdue Review,

(39.) Mama and Okazawa-Rey, "Militarism, Conflict, and Women's Activism." See also J. Ann Tickner, Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives on Achieving Global Security (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992).

(40.) Cynthia Enloe, The Curious Feminist: Searching for Women in a New Age of Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004).

(41.) Bhattacharya, "How Our Universities Teach Violence."

(42.) Lori Wilson, "Purdue Research Shows Benefit to Having Guns in Schools,", April 26, 2014,

(43.) Whitworth, Men, Militarism, and UN Peacekeeping.

(44.) Enloe, Manueuvers.

(45.) Nicole Sotelo, "Iraq Brings War Trauma into Our Homes," Women's eNews, October 31, 2007,

(46.) Nicole Detraz, International Security and Gender (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012).

(47.) Carol Cohn, "Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals," Signs 12, no. 4 (1987): 687-718.

(48.) Casey McDermott, "Purdue Exponent Photographer Detained by Police While Covering Campus Shooting," January 22, 2014, /article/2014/01/purdue-exponent-photographer-detained-by-police-while-covering-campus-shooting?id=2652.

(49.) Michael Apple, "What Does It Mean to Be a Public Intellectual? The Story of an Educational 'Creep,'" Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy 3, no. 1 (2006): 65-69.

(50.) "If It Weren't For the Gays, We Wouldn't Be Wasting $1 Trillion on AIDS,", November 3, 2009, if-it-werent-forthe-gays-we-wouldnt-be-wasting-i-trillion-on-aids-20091103.

(51.) "Campus Benefits from Security Camera Presence," Exponent, September 2, 2011,

(52.) Peter Jacobs, "Eerie Purdue University Classroom Video Shows What It's Like to be in the Same Building as a Shooting," Business Insider, January 22, 2014,

(53.) "Purdue Releases Video of Encounter with Exponent Photographer," Exponent, August 21, 2014,

(54.) Drew Desilver, "Most Young Americans Say Snowden Has Served the Public Interest," Pew Research Center, January 22, 2014, http: // americans-say-snowden-has-served-the-public-interest.

(55.) Report from the Ad Hoc Panel to Evaluate Security Feedback, April 28, 2014,

(56.) Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr., Purdue University, letter to faculty, staff, and students, January 24, 2014,
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Author:Decker, Alicia C.; Forester, Summer; Blackburn, Eliot
Publication:Feminist Studies
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2016
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