Monday, April 16, 2007


Virginia Tech

By now you've probably heard about the shootings at Virginia Tech today – 21 dead at this point. Incredibly, the shootings apparently took place over two hours. It's still early, though, and sometimes the facts take some time to establish.

Stories like this rip my heart out, both as a dean and as a parent. My condolences to the students, parents, staff, and community.

College campuses are incredibly vulnerable places. They're open, they're highly populated, they're lightly patrolled (if at all), and they're full of stressed-out people. In a way, they're almost naive, if it's possible for institutions to be naive. As I've mentioned before, they really aren't built for easy lockdown modes. Most were built before that term was even coined.

Those awful 'what if's' are always in the back of my mind. One of my committees is the group that tries students accused of plagiarism or other cheating. We set up the room so that we're closer to the door than the student is, just in case. One of my colleagues has suggested to me, gently but clearly, that it might be a good idea to hide the pictures of my kids that I keep in my office – you just never know. (I haven't, but I haven't been able to shake the thought, either.)

I don't have a neat conclusion to this one. Sometimes, there are no words.

This incident is upsetting to all of us who work in academic settings - it points out our vulnerability, and unmasks the notion that our generally safe workplaces are inherently safe. One thing I might add: please, please, please refrain from using this tragedy to defend whatever ideological approach you have to the world. I've already seen blog posts declaring this even as incontrovertible evidence of the need for gun control and the polar opposite; assertions that if faculty were "packing" that this tragedy could have been averted.

Frankly, both of these lines of argument make me sick right now. I'm sure we will learn something about how we can keep campus as safe as possible from this incident, but refrain from the knee-jerk reaction, please. This is not intended as a response to DD's post, just as clarification. It's just a place where I felt I could say what is on my mind at this moment.
Look at the real risks, and don't let events like this make you paranoid. 158,000 people died today, most through natural causes, but over a thousand from violent causes as they do every day. If you live in the U.S., you're much more likely to be killed by a lightning strike than a school shooting.

If you want to make your family safe, don't worry about your pictures. They'll live longer if you focus on avoiding the big risks and exercise regularly, drive carefully, and get flu shots.
Anonymous 2, thanks for the good advice (she says wryly). I promise not to get paranoid about being shot, but to use my seatbelt and not smoke, and eat properly, and wash my hands.

Anonymous 1, thank you too (less wryly); I too hope that people will open their hearts rather than click their tongues.

I graduated from Va Tech -- twice -- and it's oh-so-beautiful, surrounded by blue mountains and covered in green in spring and crimson in fall. It has many sweet memories for me, both for the place and the outstanding people I met there. None of my love for the place or people is spoiled in the least; I simply grieve for the grief that occurred there this day.
Thank you for this Dean Dad. I've spent time in Blacksburg & it's a beautiful area. My heart hurts for the whole community there.
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