Posts Tagged ‘Tina Stewart’

Destroyed

Posted: March 6, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Here I am writing again. It’s because I am ripped up, can’t sleep; I’m mad, heartbroken and very confused. Perhaps it comes down to the fact that I am helpless, which is one of he main things that gnaws at me. When there is something happening in my life or those close to me, I have to do something–even if it makes it worse.

The campus where I teach has been tense over the last three weeks. There have been unrelated acts of violence plus spring weather that has triggered the tornado siren. I’ve been in lockdown with the same class 2 times since the semester started. Fortunately, my classes didn’t mind; they even enjoyed the forced companionship. But that is because the nature of my class is different from many others.

I teach a stretch class. I have the same students for a whole year. The first semester we build a community, really learn to trust each other and find the voice that might have never had a place to come out before. Many of my students are first generation college students. Our essays are personal, our discussions intimate. The students find each other between classes for friendship because they already have that foundation.

The second semester these friendships delve deeper. We lose some students between the two semesters and the ones who are with me in the Spring feel bonded because it hits them that not all of the students from the last semester are as focussed on success as they are. That brings a deeper layer of kinship to the group. This semester I average 16 in each class, centered in a circle discussion style.

I write all this so that you, or maybe I, can understand the anguish I felt Wednesday night.

News hit that a basketball player at our school had been stabbed to death. All the stations did the “Breaking News” tap dance. A young, clean-faced girl’s face came across every channel’s screen. Colin and I were dumbfounded. It seems the violence was building on campus and now a death. And of a popular student.

It happened off campus in one of the apartment buildings that circle the university. We had been through so much and now this.

I did not know the basketball player, but I had taught her teammates in the past. The most disturbing thing was the physical struggle involved in this story. Perhaps a gunshot would have not bothered me as much. The victim, Tina Stewart, was big with defined muscles. She was not someone I would want to come across in a physical fight. So I began to see the struggle in my mind. I was saddened at what she went through, how physical and loud it must have been. The reports kept coming across the screen and I knew we were in for a confused week of mourning.

As I kept an eye on the news and replayed the bloody scene, a new report came up. Shanterrica Madden, the player’s roommate was in custody. I read it. And I read it. And then I felt like throwing up. Then screaming. My kids were asleep. I rushed into the living room shaking,  telling my husband “it was my student. it was my student.”  And for a while I groaned, hunched over like I always imagined was unrealistic when I saw it in movies. I felt a physical poison in my stomach that I wanted to vomit out.

Within a few minutes a text came through from a student. “You know that stabbing, Prof. Ford? It was Shanterrica.” I called the student and we cried. I thought of going down to the police station, but knew I had to keep some distance. I had no details. I had no understanding.

I tried to sleep, but something else was haunting me. There was a report of a girl fleeing the scene.

It wasn’t 2 weeks prior that I found out that a girl in my 3rd class was good friends with Shanterrica. In fact, Shanterrica confused me one day by showing up for that 3rd class with the girl. She came by to say “hi” even though we had just been together a few hours before that. When the report came through that a girl had fled, I just had a feeling it was the student in my 3rd class. I emailed the student and had her call me.

“Were you there?” “Yes, Ma’am.”  “Have you seen a counselor? Are you with anyone?” “No ma’am.” I told her I was coming and to get to my office.

I’m not going to get into the details of what happened then or what the details that she told me were, but this girl was a mess. A mess. I spent the day with her and got her packed and ready to go home. The campus was tense. The girl who was killed was a popular student. She had the athletic leaders and community, as well as the president of the university, giving televised tributes to her. Flowers were all around campus. Students were already wearing blue in respect for her. It would not take a spark to ignite a physical attack on this eye-witness due to the simple fact that everyone felt like I did–we just had to do something. Anything.

Classes had already been canceled for Friday so that I could go to a professional conference on campus. But after talking to my students, I called Shanterrica’s class back to campus. I didn’t know how many would show up since i gave them the day off and Spring Break starts Monday.

I was fortunate enough to have a friend attend the class with me. She happened to be on the committee that supports other professors in times of distress and had been called to contact me. Of all the instructors on campus, I know a very few, and she is the one I know the most–so it was a great help.

Friday morning a majority of the students showed up. There was a lot of crying. There was anger against the community who were so fast to bury Shanterrica and there was a sorrow at not being able to do anything. The emotions weren’t, and aren’t, pure. We are confused at how to feel. The community is calling Shanterrica a “thug” and saying that the university is letting “just anybody in.” This is kicking these students while they are down. They are in shock. This is not the truth of what they know. This is:

Shanterrica Madden was a great student. She had goals and wasn’t messing around. When I told all my students how they could fix their essays that first semester, she didn’t just fix hers; she sought help on campus; she got in touch with me and she asked questions. I wish I didn’t have to say that was rare, but it was. And I told her that. It is a quality that really impresses instructors.

She was kind. We talked sometimes before class when the girls hung out outside the door talking about their weekends. She laughed and has a great smile. Furthermore, because my class is very discussion based and hand-raising isn’t necessary, she never crossed the line of disrespect. That one is a hard line for students to see. If they are engaging with their teacher on a level platform in discussion, some forget to talk with respect. Shanterrica never did. This student was consistently polite in a class that sooner or later reveals the flaws in everyone.

The one thing that continued to come out as a theme in Shanterrica’s life was family. She has a great one, a loving one. She is not a troubled young woman. She was not a troubled student. She did not have rage; she did not exhibit any inappropriate reactions in class. She wanted to be a lawyer and make her family proud.

I cannot reconcile what happened that night with Shanterrica Madden. The facts are for the jury and judge. I won’t make any claims on what I think happened. But, as I told my class, we did not know a killer. We were not close to someone who could do something like this. She was not all these things people say about her.

Regardless of what happens, the majority of this promising girl’s life was not much different from the victim, Tina Stewart. They were both promising young students who were going to make their families and MTSU proud. They both excelled in their own ways. They both have friends who are confused and heartbroken. They both have parents who are destroyed.

I’ll be honest and say that I mourn Shanterrica. It doesn’t sound right. She is the one still alive. She is the one who might have a possibility of living free one day and getting married and doing all the things Tina won’t be able to do. I should be mourning the victim more, right?

I wish it was that clear-cut for me and my students. Perhaps if we had the privilege of knowing Tina, we would understand what we are feeling. Perhaps we would be sleeping, eating right and going 5 minutes without this eating out our skulls.

http://www.tennessean.com/article/20110304/NEWS03/103040333/Random-pairing-unravels-lives-MTSU-player-roommate