There is need to stem tide of wanton killings across our universities

The macabre killing of sixth year Moi University medical student Ivy Wangechi has brought to fore the biggest challenge in campus and to young people; love matters. But this horrific death is part of a pattern of deaths in campus—not new but seems to constantly be taking new forms.

These killings make us believe there is no escaping this dangerous and suicidal climate that campus students have to put up with every day. Can we please talk about it? What happens in the dark always comes to light, and dark issues on campus are no different. These issues must be addressed because if universities cannot help crack down on such incidents, this behavior will only proliferate. And that’s the road already.

Although domestic and gender based violence has become commonplace among university students in Kenya, making universities unsafe places for female students, the new turn where students are killing each other for all manner of reasons may be a tip of the iceberg.

Granted that we have had just too many deaths of university students in recent months across campuses, there is need for serious thought with a view to turn the tide of tragedy. And that shift must happen way before young people in our campuses become statistic.

Social media

It is known that times of austerity can enforce a barren outlook among students that will dramatically affect the temperament of those who have invested so heavily in their future careers; it behooves society to look at itself anew. Money and associated cultures have been identified as the hottest new source of anxiety among young people in campus. And the story from Eldoret speaks this line. Money and more, and less of it.

Then, enters social media. It is from social media platforms that most of the campus students get their ideas on relationships. Recent studies on the use of social media to build relationships show that most of them usually end up in violent break-ups or death.

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The new media culture which is associated with excessive social media use also fosters a certain competition between one’s real life and one’s virtual life. That is, a tug of war between being engrossed in posting experiences on social media, sending texts and taking selfies instead of enjoying the moment for what it’s worth. Many college students are living dual virtual and real lives, and the virtual life is competing and at times becomes more important than real life.

Campus students are often told that their university time should be the best to remember. There’s intense pressure to meet new people every day, forge friendships that will last for a lifetime, go out and party while getting top grades and maintaining a modern profile to show your old schoolmates exactly how much fun you’re having.  And the parties, the dinners and all. It’s purely copycat organisms’ culture. And no one wants to be left behind in this very maddening chase to nowhere.

Fledgling friendships

In these circumstances, even the most prepared students can still be exposed to higher-risk behaviors and are then more likely to participate in them. Added to the complexity, class differences among the students and the new media culture, it’s a mess. Seeing lives of their peers(true or made up) playing out in constant, glittering detail on social media, movies and television makes  for the  worst.

It is also understandable that in our system, having been pushed and helicoptered by parents and teachers through boarding school, many students feel under prepared for their newfound independence in campus, with only fledgling friendships for support. Then, of course, there are the rising costs. Students are keenly aware of the need to make their parents pay university fees and pay for their up-keep count; and scared of failing to live up to expectations and anxious about job prospects.

With this, life in campus has become so intense for students. It is hard for some to find a balance between partying, happiness and class work. Anxiety and depression are competing to be the most common mental health challenges among campus students. They will tell you that no one wants to be the one who is struggling while everyone else is doing great.

Due to this, many university students are also under pressure from the new found life where many feel like there is no room for mistakes in today’s society, yet they make a lot of mistakes as young adults. Indeed, it’s a huge transition and all the support systems are different. It is overwhelmingly difficult.

Many people are quick to say that each incident is isolated, that no one should look at these events as part of something larger embedded in campus culture. And it is hard to know who is going to perpetrate the next act. However, there is a huge, unanswerable question: How do we fix this?

Prof Mogambi, Communication and Social Change Expert, teaches at the University of Nairobi. [email protected]

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Ivy WangechiStudent Murders