Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Students Weigh In On Elliot Rodger

I teach remedial English to students in a community college who are not native speakers.  They are mostly international students from Asia or Saudi Arabia, with a scattering of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia/Eritrea, or Mexico.

Today, when I overheard some of the "residents" chatting about the Elliot Rodger's case before class began, I was inspired to throw out my lesson plan du jour and focus on the sad story that has been so much in the news.  I am always looking for those "teaching moments," always cognizant that people remember best that which is emotionally arousing, and... I was honestly interested in their opinions. 

Had they watched Elliot Rodger's "retribution" video?  A Russian woman confessed she had not, but her mother in Ukraine had e-mailed her about the story.  She squirmed uncomfortably at the prospect of watching the video.  (She is a young widow with an adolescent son.)

Ad hoc, I hastily scrawled three questions for students to discuss in groups after they'd watched the video:

1.  Why was Elliot Rodger angry?

2.  Was Elliot Rodger "sane" or "insane" (according to the legal definition of being responsible for his own actions)?

3.  What could have prevented this tragedy?

Then, courtesy of Youtube, I played the video.  The students watched with apparent interest.  Rodger spoke slowly and dramatically, so he wasn't hard to understand, although I quickly realized that "slaughter" and "slay" were probably not within my students' lexicon and had to stop the video to define these verbs.

When Rodger spoke about how his virginity at age 22 was "a crime," many of my Chinese male students began to giggle uncontrollably.  The notion that their own (probable) virginities constituted "crimes" that merited punishment of the female sex was thoroughly risible to them.  What was Rodger's problem?  He was good-looking, he was rich, his dad worked in Hollywood...  In short, his complaints were ludicrous.  Elliot Roger was living exactly the "student lifestyle" they could only dream of. 

The middle eastern students put the blame on Rodger's family.  Clearly, his parents had not exerted sufficient control over, or provided adequate nurturing of, this wayward son.  They also speculated that Rodger had been exploited by girls who were only after his money.  One Saudi student astutely pointed out that it wasn't "sex" Rodger yearned for; it was love. 

The North African refugees viewed the issue mostly in terms of gun control.  Why had Rodger been permitted to own a gun?  Would their own children ever be safe in a country that allowed anyone to obtain firearms?  

Some of the students thought Rodger was both "crazy" and "sane."  In other words, while only a mentally disturbed person would do what he had done, he should have been held accountable for his actions in a court of law (had he lived).  I let this slide because I myself cannot reconcile the inherent contradiction between the "intuitive" and "legal" definitions of "sanity." 

The student from Cameroon was very skeptical that Rodger had killed himself; he was certain that the police must have shot him on the spot.

Only one lone Korean girl ventured that Rodger had been motivated by a sense of masculine entitlement.  She didn't use that exact language, but her message was clear:  "He kill because he think all girl must love him."


  1. ATD here: This is very interesting. Just yesterday, I was having tea with my parents and my parents' friends - all of whom are Pakistani immigrants (although they have been settled in the US for some time.) This incident eventually came up in conversation. In spite of the tragic nature of the situation, they couldn't help but laugh at how ludicrous Rodger's reasons for killing were. "He killed just because he got rejected by girls?! It makes no sense! He had everything - money, a house, education - what went wrong??"

    I didn't have the same initial reaction because I had been aware of the manosphere for so long that what Rodger did almost made sense from a manospherian POV. That is how warped my mind has become! The manosphere's blogs are so angrily written that it doesn't seem that far from what Rodger's said in his manifesto and video. I'm 99% sure that my parents and their friends are blissfully unaware of what is on the internet, and thus unaware of exactly how angry these guys are.

    1. As burned out as I have become in my job, I have to concede that my NNS students help keep me connected to Reality.


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