Gun Violence on Campus: What Can Physiologists Do?

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In light of the tragic shooting at Michigan State University where 3 students were killed and 5 more remain critically injured, our hearts go out to the victims, families, students, staff, faculty, and entire campus community. The Michigan Physiological Society is committed to supporting the healing process.

As physiologists, we study function from molecular mechanisms to human performance to community health. Gun violence is a major public health problem and a leading cause of premature death. In the United States, school shootings and widespread community gun violence are far greater compared to other countries. Between 2018 and 2021, there were more than 500 mass shooting events each year. These events can have long-lasting effects on physical and mental health as well as educational and economic trajectories for years and even possibly decades. Given our discipline‚Äôs focus to improve health, physiologists have an important role to play by talking with students about 1) gun violence and human health and 2) preparation for an active shooter event on campus.  

Wehrwein and colleagues (2015) demonstrated that making connections between current events and course curriculum engages students and facilitates understanding of physiology. Accordingly, physiology educators could give students an opportunity to explore the biology of grief, identify links between increased stress and risk of developing chronic disease (e.g., cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, depression and anxiety), investigate the impact of violence on community health, and/or review current policies for gun legislation. Physiology researchers could facilitate a similar journal club discussion with laboratory members. Creating space to discuss gun violence and its impact on health may help students reflect on gun violence in their own communities.

Additionally, increasing student awareness for how to remain vigilant, report suspicious activity, and have a plan to prevent and respond to an active shooter is critical. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, anyone can play a role in mitigating the impacts of an active shooter incident. The best thing to do is to “Run, Hide and Fight”. Most universities have an active shooter training for staff and faculty and additional resources are available through state and federal websites. Reviewing these resources with students and ensuring that a classroom and/or research laboratory is adequately prepared is essential. Finally, it is important to remind students of other resources on campus that can support their mental health and well-being.

In summary, physiology educators and researchers can help support student health, well-being, and safety on their campuses. Working together with students will help better position them to be leaders in health advocacy in its broadest sense.

To support Michigan State University, visit their Spartan Strong Relief Fund.

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