Fire shines light on someone's need for help

By Maurice Byrd Jr. - Guest Column



Jan. 29 was a normal day of teaching. The process was like any other – I aggressively approached my lectures and flowed seamlessly in and out of course topics and theories. The students received the information, leaned forward in their seats and seemed to grasp for each word. Halfway through, a student quickly returned from excusing themselves, and screamed, "the bathroom's on fire."

Once I heard the alarm, then seen the smoke, I knew there was fire. My instincts kicked in, and I told myself to "stay calm" and that the "students needed to see a calm leader."

I instructed the students to leave their things and walk in a single-file line out of the classroom and towards the door of the southern wing of the building, away from the fire.

After a student headcount revealed no one left inside the building, we waited for the fire department and things were resolved within an hour-and-a-half. As I drove home, I reflected on the day's events.

Firstly, I imagined the level of vitriol that a student must have had towards Highline to attempt to burn down a building. Then I thought to myself: Maybe it was a prank? Or merely kids being kids? Or an accidental cigarette thrown in the trash?

Maybe someone didn't want to be in class that period? Either way, starting a fire in a building with unsuspecting people could have grave consequences. Such is that, I don't believe the arsonist – for lack of better terms – comprehends the severity of the actions they've committed.

Some may attribute the building fire as a seen-it-before, high school prank, however, I used the term arsonist prudently, as essentially, this is what Building 22's bathroom fire was - arson. According to RCW 9A.48.030, arson, in the first-degree is described as anyone willingly or maliciously causing a fire which is manifestly dangerous to any human life, including firefighters, or which damages a building.

Both statutes, in my opinion the assailant committed. Another student has just thrown their life away, presuming the authorities apprehend a suspect.

Secondly, I imagined the perpetrators thought: "it's just a "trash can." Well, that fiery trash can, in a building of over 100 people could potentially carry a penalty of three to five years in a Federal penitentiary.

Not a great place to visit; and let's not count the invasive years of probation and monitoring.

Our programs need to continue to identify and remedy the most at-risk individuals. The system should 'catch' or at least identify troubled students before they went - "off-the-rails." Bathroom fires, classroom disruptions and/or outbursts are forms of resistance and essentially cries for attention. Enabling bad behavior allows truculent students to pass through the system and create dysfunctions within the classroom and workplace, and potentially create greater harm than if the student realized penalties while still in academia.

At the very least, instructors should be able to input unbiased student reflections into a viewable database for future educators to better customize their lectures to the modern student. This database would not only reduce safety concerns and cost but would promote a transparent atmosphere where teachers and students could harmoniously educate and learn.

Lastly, I wondered what was ailing the student who committed the bathroom fire. I feel deep down that this person is in pain. Is the student's pain a backlash of a flawed educational system, or deep rooted issues involving the student's upbringing?

I wonder what captivates this student? After pontificating, I went home and prepared for the next day. Class is still in session.

Maurice A. Byrd Jr is a business professor at Highline.

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