By Deirdre Godwin, Program Assistant, Professional Development and Training, Faculties of Health and Human Services & Trades and Applied Technology, VIU
In an earlier incarnation, or so it now seems, I was a student at an institution called Malaspina College. Many of my classes were held in decommissioned army huts, most of which on the verge of being condemned. “Don’t dust,” we students would say, “it’s only the cobwebs providing structural support.”
The huts were not the only legacy of the nearby army base. Although strictly forbidden to do so, some of the young soldier trainees held illicit military maneuvers on campus. Wolf-whistles directed towards female students were pretty common. Once, I was confronted by a young man in fatigues who cocked his finger at me and declaimed, “Bang!” I prefer to assume that he was envisioning me as a military rather than amatory conquest.
A quick exercise in mental arithmetic and institutional history will divulge that I attended college in the early 1980s. This was not an era of flower power and student demonstrations. We did not congregate to chant, “Hell no, we won’t go,” or “Hands off Viet Nam,” as students of an earlier vintage may have done. I was not what you’d call a rebel. (I did cut class once, as I recall, surrendering to the debauchery of a cup of coffee at main cafeteria.) In spite of all this goody-two-shoed personality, I do have the distinction of having been tear-gassed.
One morning as I got off the bus, I felt my throat begin to sting. I thought was coming down with some nasty bug or other until I realized that everyone around me was coughing and choking. I took shelter in the Music Building. Harkening back to Grade 12 History and the first gas attack at Ypres, I improvised a gas-mask out of a wad of water-dampened Kleenex then made a dash to the hut of the day.
Rumours abounded, and it was finally confirmed that a training exercise at the army base had gone awry. Tear-gas had escaped its confines and, with utter disregard of boundaries, drifted across Fifth Street to settle into the lungs of students and instructors alike.
I learned a number of things from this incident. I learned that lessons taught in high school history can be applied to real life situations. I learned that prevailing winds can have an impact on every-day life. And I learned that I am unlikely ever to become a rebel. Even accidental, open-air methods of crowd control make it just not worth it.