Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Too Sad

What led to the horror that happened at Virginia Tech? Was there anything more than insanity driving the young man to murder of such magnitude? I feel so deeply sorry for all the students, staff, and family. Knowing that my friends, colleagues, and former students there are OK today is a relief, but doesn't lessen the horror.

I admit that, after the initial shock of hearing the news, I wasn't surprised that an engineering building was involved, but I had to revise my hasty conclusions once I heard that the murderer was an English major and an undergraduate. News reports now describe the young man as a "loner", which was perhaps inevitable. I hope that there will not be negative reactions to male Asian students as a result of this incident.

Many of my colleagues, and myself as well, have received threats of death and injury over the years. The response of my department has been to fire the angry student or postdoc or staff member, and I don't know of any cases when the police have been alerted. In one case involving me, I wanted to call the police, but my department chair talked me out of it, saying it could be seen as 'harrassment' of a mentally unstable person. I don't know if academia is more stressful than working in a bank or factory (or post office), but the collision of stress, anger, socially inept people, and the academic power structure creates many opportunities for tragedy. Add to that the easy availability of serious weapons..

There are so many situations in which students are angry about their grades, their personal lives, their futures -- how do you know when it is 'normal' anger that won't lead to anything and when it is something that imperils people's lives?

At the start of every school year, instructors at my university get information from the university counseling service about what to do when an undergraduate student is having emotional problems, and what resources to recommend to the student. I've never made use of this information, not knowing when is the right time or situation in which to bring it up. I certainly wouldn't recommend counseling for a student I perceived to be a 'loner' if I had no other information. But then you wonder whether anything could be done to stop these horrific explosions of anger and insanity -- and if so, who could have stopped it, and how and when? I ask that in the context of knowing that nothing is going to happen anytime soon to makes guns less available in America.


Ms.PhD said...

Poor kid. Just think if guns were illegal in Virginia!

But I still don't really know what happened. All I know was that they said the kid was Korean.

If you've ever seen the comedienne Margaret Cho, or known many Korean kids, you'd know there's tremendous pressure from the family and the culture to get perfect grades, play musical instruments perfectly, be generally perfect.

So I seriously doubt the issue is academia alone, however screwed up academia happens to be.

I also think it's no coincidence that this incident occurred just a couple of days before graduation (which is today, right?).

Really embarrassing how poorly the university handled the situation.

I'm glad your friends there are okay.

Ambitwistor said...


Graduation at Virginia Tech (my alma mater.. I lived in the dorm involved!) is May 11.

Anonymous said...

I'm at my department office right now, and not 20 minutes ago, an ├╝ber-competent office staff member had to listen to an irate student tell her on the phone, "This is why they shoot people. They shoot people like *you.*"

Also, two colleagues of mine sponsoring a symposium on Turkish-Armenian reconciliation have been receiving threats from both sides. Beginning yesterday, at least two of those threats specifically referenced the Virginia Tech massacre.

I would think that this sad incident would show students what an awful thing violence is. Instead, it seems to have done exactly the opposite.

lost clown said...

Being a student it hits really close to home. It's horrible what happen and the stories you all have told. I can't believe how rampant it is.

The scary part is that I could be considered a loner.

Bug_girl said...

This is me speaking as someone who jumped the faculty ship and swam to student services:

ANY student threat of physical harm should be taken seriously and reported. Anonymous, your staffer should call the police.

As for the other issues:
You *can't* tell the difference between plain crazy and dangerous crazy. Both of them need to be connected to the counseling center.

I have intervened many times with students, and I've never regretted it.
Don't let administrators with no balls talk you out of it.

Or, talk to the counseling center directly, and get an expert opinion. They are happy to help, since they know this is not something we are trained for.

wolfa said...

What led to the horror that happened at Virginia Tech?

Oh, you missed the article that said it was the fault of his ex-girlfriend (or possibly the girl he was stalking)?

Anonymous said...

"I admit that, after the initial shock of hearing the news, I wasn't surprised that an engineering building was involved..."
It seems that your reaction to the engineering building with the VT incident is the judgement you are hoping to avoid as a female PhD in academia. Perhaps you should be careful with your judgments and stereotypes since that is what you are trying to avoid/educate by creating this blog. Some of your credibility has been lost with this one.

Female Science Professor said...

Credibility is so easily lost, alas. I had recently been reading a review of a movie that is based on (loosely) the incident at Iowa years ago. There was a chart showing a history of 'academic murders'. Engineering/math are well represented. So, my apparently biased view was based on data, not random prejudice about the instability of engineers.

Bob said...

Maybe check into crimianl profile study: Charles Manson, who still gets fanmail, women who poisoned their family for insurance money, new lover, fun; A&E shows have lots of great episodes on this kind of things. 20/20 has done many reports in the past. History is full of recorded data, but society isnt about knowledge and being a community, at least American culture. Its about how much can I accumulate, how can I make myself better than those around me. Who consumes the most drugs and alcohol in America? How much do they make? What do they look like? How are they treated? Do people in your neighborhood smile a lot? Are they friendly? Are they helpful? Are they charitable? When it comes to performing actions, actions that involve challenge or are unenjoyable - is it because the end result leads to getting paid or laid? Most often when I am ask or see someone else being asked the question. "WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT?" They can not understand why anyone would do it unless it is a result of getting paid or laid. Getting drunk is a voluntary action so working for a case a beer I wont include. Why do culutres wage war? Why do religions who preach love and understanding hate each others theology and argue who is the true religion? Why do Nations self profess who is the greatest and which ones are inferior? Why isn't problem solving an open resource vs if we/I find the solution it will mean big bucks? Isnt the cure for what ails man more vuluable than someones ranking in Forbes? Do rich and famous people commit violence? Why? Is therapy affordable? Is America disconnected from all that ails it and people just hide in their homes taking care of themselves? They are many peices to the puzzle. This kid on the edge made history, one day someone else will set a new record, our culture isn't designed to handle it, we just think x is there so it should stop, or take away y and it should stop. It wont.