People, not laws, will prevent campus tragedies
‘We all have to ask ourselves: How could we have intervened?’
Detroit News 5/09/07
The Virginia Tech massacre is nearly a month gone, but I’m still locked on the faces of the 32 victims. I recognize them; I pass them every day on the sidewalks of my campus.
Their story is my story, and the story of the students at my college. They are the ambitious, bright-eyed young people who fill campuses across the country. We’ve lost 32 of our own, and I’ve cried over them.
The Virginia Tech tragedy was met with grief and shock for a short time before the cold discussion of laws and new policies took over. The ensuing blame game has kept politicians and writers busy for weeks.
Beyond the law
I’m disappointed by their short-sighted perspective. While only in college, it’s plain to me that new laws won’t prevent the desperate acts of a troubled man.
Maybe it takes being on a campus to understand.
Two years ago, a student from my college — who would be graduating with my class next week –committed suicide. It was devastating. It didn’t garner national news, but like Virginia Tech, our small campus mourned.
We students had lost one of our own, and we felt responsible. His parents spoke at a memorial service on campus — they had lost their son, and they felt responsible.
Our football team and coaches had lost one of their players, and they felt responsible. Our administrators and faculty had lost one of their students, and they felt responsible.
Those affected by the death had a new resolve. It wasn’t law-related, rule-related or protocol-related. It was a personal resolve. Together, as students, parents and administrators, we hadn’t cared enough, been close enough or been alert enough to help this young man.
The resolve to intervene
Last spring another student began showing signs of suicidal depression. I was one of the first people to call the dean. Other students committed to staying with the student day and night. The student’s parents were notified, a counselor was brought in, administrators met with friends of the student, and together a plan of action was developed. That student is alive today.
As much as we’d like to believe he was born a monster, Seung-Hui Cho was human. His story is a personal one. He was a troubled young man. He was isolated, shy, alone. He was hurt and desperate. He was angry. And those around him knew that.
Cho was not destined to be a monster; his life held the possibility of hope.
When someone within our circle resorts to a violent, desperate act, we all share the blame. And we all have to ask ourselves: What could we have done? How could we have intervened?
Finding the right answers to those questions and resolving to become better connected to those around us will do more to prevent future tragedies than will new laws.
Lauren Grover is a journalism student at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale. She graduates next week. Fax letters to (313) 222-6417. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. For the full names of Virginia Tech victims, go to www.vt.edu/tragedy/list.php.