Even though FBI data has indicated that violent crime rates in the United States declined between 1993 and 2019, violence continues to be a pressing issue in this country (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/11/20/facts-about-crime-in-the-u-s/). In fact, according to TIME magazine, 2020 was one of the most violent years in the United States in decades. During this year, over 19,000 people were killed in shootings and firearm-related incidents, which is the highest death toll in the United States in over twenty years (https://time.com/5922082/2020-gun-violence-homicides-record-year/). Why is violence still prevalent in the United States? Is this surge in violence inevitable, or are there ways to prevent it from rising even further? These are just some of the questions I asked college students to see if they could offer any insight into this issue.

By Rebecca Diers – SUNY Cortland

The college students I interviewed proposed multiple ideas as to why they think violence continues to happen in the United States. Alicia, who is a Film Studies and Production major said, “I think cultures everywhere are just inherently scared of what is unfamiliar and they attack that. But to be more specific I think things like the dramatic increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans occur because people use fear as an excuse to hate. And I generally think that people don’t have a strong enough desire to learn about others, or learn about solutions to issues, or anything of the sort. I think a lot of people are comfortable in their hate and exclusionism. I also think Americans have violence sort of embedded in our culture. Like as a culture we are so reactionary instead of preventative with everything.”

Francesca, who is an Environmental Design, Policy, and Planning major, had a similar opinion to Alicia. She said, “I think violence is caused by a divide of groups of people. Oftentimes these groups have opposing viewpoints and do not have it in themselves to listen to each other’s reasoning for certain views.”

Sociology major, Margaret, proposed another reason for this violence. She said, “I think there is a very unique culture in the United States that allows violence to prevail when compared to other similarly developed countries. I can’t say what that is specifically, but maybe it has something to do with strong nationalism and pride in American values, such as individual liberty.”

Lucy, who is a Professional Writing major, offered an additional explanation by saying, “I think violence continues to happen in the US because guns are easily accessible for people. We are constantly seeing violence in movies and media and we have all become so accustomed to it.”

With these answers in mind, I then asked these students whether they thought this violence is inevitable, or if they think there are ways to have peace. There was a consensus among these students that there are ways to have peace, but that this violence is most likely always going to be around, because of the reasons they gave for the previous question. Instead of violence being completely eliminated, they only believed that it might be able to be lessened. Because of this response, I furthered the question by asking what they thought some possible solutions to this violence are.

One interesting response was from Margaret, who said, “A professor I once had suggested treating violence like a public health issue and treating it with similar methods to achieve peace.”

Francesca considered another solution: “There are legal platforms to resolve issues that disrupt peace (courts of law for private property boundary issues for example). Social media is not a solution to violence – as posts are often geared toward a particular agenda and it either makes the viewer very angry or super supportive. I think social media supports divide, and now that children are quite literally growing up with it, they are influenced by what they see online. Reaching a more peaceful world will have to be when children learn by interacting with one another, learning key character traits. Tossing an iPad on their laps is not the solution. I also think that adults in general should be more open to discussion instead of argument when it comes to ‘hot topics’ like politics. I can definitely say I have seen many dinners turn into heated arguments.”

After hearing their opinions on this violence and their solutions, I wanted to learn what kind of world these college students would like to live in, and how we as a country can achieve the kind of world they described.

Lucy said, “I would like to live in a world where there aren’t shootings everyday and people no longer use violence as a form of resolution. I would like to live in a world where war doesn’t happen and kindness is more common than cruelty.”

Christopher, who is a History major, offered a similar perspective by saying, “The world I see has people who tolerate everyone no matter their views. We also should not cast our beliefs as if it’s the overall one right belief.”

Alicia reflected Christopher’s ideal world by saying, “Of course I wouldn’t want to live in a world where everyone’s opinions are the same because that would be boring. But it would be nice if we could all agree that everyone deserves to be treated with the same amount of dignity and humanity. Those are the worst “conversations” to have (conversations is in quotes because I don’t know if they can even be called that) where you can tell that the conversation is just disregarding someone else’s humanity and right to existence.”

Margaret also brought up the idea of people having different opinions. In the world she imagines, “There would be a lot less hate and divisions, people wouldn’t automatically be demonized for having different opinions and put into boxes. This would have much less emphasis on political identity, which I find causes most of this hate and division. There would also be a lot more sustainable lifestyle where we are kind to our land. Plus medicine wouldn’t be commercialized.”

Francesca had a similar point of view to Margaret: “The US prides itself on diversity. So there is nothing wrong with having opposing political parties battling it out during a debate, but there is something wrong with bashing the opponent with offensive phrases and false information. I would like to live in a world where I know I am safe and heard.”

In terms of how we can achieve this world, Margaret said, “Sometimes it seems like the only way would be to literally start over, but that’s not feasible nor is it preferable. I think a shift in culture is necessary for anything in this kind of world, which sounds easier than it actually is when culture is so heavily tied to economic incentives.”

Alicia shared a similar view to Margaret. She said, “I just think we need to get everyone on the same page. And I’m not really sure how to go about that bc so many people are not willing to change. And I know that there are people who will say that I’m not willing to change but that’s mainly because I’m not going to compromise on what I consider to be basic human rights. And I know that that’s how some people view their standpoint as well. So I’m not really sure how well ever actually get there.”

Christopher also was not sure how we can achieve the world he described, but he did say, “I wonder what we would change if we forgot of small differences and walked hand and hand as one.”

These college students offered eye-opening perspectives on the reasons for violence in the United States. Through their responses, it is evident how much progress this country, and even the world, needs to make in order to achieve the kind of world these students wish to live in. By taking into account their views of the current state of this country, maybe one day we will be able to take a step towards their visions of peace and humanity.

Do you agree with these college students? Is this violence inevitable, or is it possible for the world to one day know true peace? Feel free to send me your opinions, and your own thoughts on what kind of world you would like to live in, to my email: rebecca.diers@cortland.edu

Rebecca Diers is interning with Pressenza as a part of her Professional Writing major at SUNY Cortland. Her other major in Anthropology fuels her passion for understanding different cultures and making connections with people. She uses writing as a way to make sense of the world, and to inspire a sense of humanity in her audience.