Gunner Dilemma

Samrah Mahmoud
J.D. Candidate 2012, UCI Law

I recently watched George Washington University Law Revue’s spoof on Cee Lo Green’s F*ck You, a roast of what the song calls “gunners.” Gunners, according to the spoof, are students who “raise their hand in every single class.” The Revue itself is very creative, and at first, I thought it was a pretty hilarious rendition of the popular song. But then I thought about the song’s lyrics and it raised a bigger issue: the term gunner gets thrust upon any student who enjoys participating in their education and who raises their hand more than a few times a class. Certainly, some students deserve the title—students who would “gun down” others to get to the top. But participating in class and engaging in material on its own does not make someone a gunner.

From an early age, it is drilled into our heads that liking school too much or caring about learning is “uncool.” Those who like doing history homework or enjoy reading classic novels are labeled by classmates as nerds, geeks, or other similar derogatory terms. Once labeled a nerd or a geek, a student becomes a social outcast subject to relentless teasing. So young kids who have a passion for learning either (1) learn to “dummy down” or (2) accept that they will be a social outcast for the rest of their adolescence. In either case, they do so with the hope that higher learning will be different—that once they move on to college they will be among like minds, other students who enjoy knowledge and like to engage in educational discussions. But it does not get any better in college or post-grad work because students who were once chastised and shunned in lower learning do the same thing to other students in higher education, albeit with different labels and generally more intelligent insults.

Take for example, law school, where the term gunner is applied to any student who seems enthusiastic about the material and participates as a way of learning. Though thankfully I have not seen this at UCI Law, other schools provide plenty of examples. As stated earlier, some deserve the label gunner. An example is the student who tears pages out of library books so other students cannot access information. For these students, castigation is proper, not because they have a zest for learning (as this is not where there conduct stems from), but because they have failed to show respect to fellow classmates. Unfortunately, the term gunner is not reserved solely for the aforementioned student but is applied to any student who is seen as participating too much in class.

“Real gunners” are different from students who simply learn best when engaging in the material and participating in class. If a student participates in a respectful manner and does not waste other students’ time with irrelevant discussions, he or she should not be discouraged from enhancing his or her education. Higher education is supposed to be a safe haven for all the “geeks” and “nerds” out there, not a place where students need to continue to hide their enjoyment of learning in order to be treated well and avoid social condemnation. Perhaps it is time to remember how being teased in lower education felt and to be a little more generous to fellow classmates.

Finally, I want to thank my classmates at UCI Law for treating each other with respect and for not making those of us who like to participate in class feel embarrassed. I am very lucky to be in classes with students who are thoughtful of each other and go out of their way to make our school a tolerant and supportive environment.