|Title||Averting the unlikely: Fearing, assessing, and preventing threats of rampage violence in American public schools|
|Published in||Northeastern University|
|Abstract|| Over the last decade, school rampage shootings have taken multiple lives and caused widespread fear throughout the United States. During this same period, there have also been dozens of averted incidents where student plots to kill multiple peers and faculty members came to the attention of authorities and thus were thwarted. This dissertation entails in-depth interviews conducted with school and police officials (administrators, counselors, security and police officers, and teachers) directly involved in preventing what many perceived to be potential rampages at eleven public middle and high schools across the Northeastern United States. Interview data were subsequently triangulated via news media reporting and legal documentation about the eleven averted incidents. Additionally, the perspectives of school administrators at demographically similar public schools (i.e. in predominantly white suburban and rural communities) where no rampage threat took place were solicited as a basis of comparison.
This multi-tiered method enabled the investigation of how officials explain their beliefs and concerns about threats of rampage violence, the process by which threats are assessed, and how previous school rampage plots have been averted. The resultant data provide insight into the school cultures and practices that enabled rampage attacks to be foiled, but also serve as a means through which to better understand late modern perspectives on the fear, risk assessment, and surveillance of American youth. Therefore, the way in which school authorities have reacted to the school rampage phenomenon reveals a great deal about our contemporary justice mindset, which often views the identification, surveillance, and management of potentially dangerous individuals as the best approach to the inevitability of crime. As such, my research reveals both practical implications for school violence prevention and significant theoretical insight regarding the causes and consequences of enhanced school discipline and security.
An exaggerated perception of the likelihood of rampage shootings has led many officials to justify, albeit somewhat reluctantly, the extensive criminalization of their schools via punitive disciplinary policies and enhanced security measures. Close scrutiny of the eleven averted incidents indicate, however, that it is most frequently students coming forward with knowledge about their peers' violent intentions that has led to rampage attacks being averted. As such, the implications for the future administration of school safety are considerable.