Like everyone else, I Ihave spent the last few days in stunned bewilderment over what happened in Blacksburg on April 16. I gained some much-needed perspective from this note from Justin Nystrom, a friend and former Phd student, who is teaching at Virginia Tech:
To say it has been a strange week here would be an understatement. The campus is still in a high degree of disarray, but there are signs of life. Many of the students left for home either after the Tuesday night candle vigil or on Wednesday. With students and parents trundling overstuffed bags to waiting cars parked outside the residence halls, it had the appearance of the last day of exams, but without the cheerful banter. Those students have remained grow actively hostile towards the media following NBC's decision to air that idiotic video of the killer. There's a lot of justifiable anger about that.
Among the dead are one colleague/friend in the German department and a former student. Jamie Bishop went to UGA and taught German. His office was just down the stairs from mine, and I'd often stop in to chat, either coming or going.
.... he was always an upbeat and supportive person to talk with. It is sort of hard to believe that he was probably the first one to die in Norris hall, the shooter bursting in the door and blowing him away with a gunshot to the head. He never had a chance.
So now we have this unprecedented situation of trying to wrap up our semester.
The general guidelines from the university have been to give the students an option to end their semesters now, if need be. So we are all trying to sort out how we confront Monday. US South will probably be "coming to grips with reality"
101. But many of my students have expressed the need to be in class on Monday.
They have really impressed us throughout. There is something to be said about the student culture on this campus, which is really like no other I have been on.
Like Justin, I have been deeply impressed with the students at Virginia Tech, and I, too, was dismayed and angered by NBC’s decision to run excerpts from the killer’s rant. My gag reflex was sorely tested when a sanctimonious Brian Williams explained that the network felt “an obligation” to air the material. An obligation to whom? Do the sorely deranged need any more encouragement to commit atrocities that will gain them public exposure? Do we know anything about this kid after viewing this video ad nauseam than we had already surmised? You don’t have to be a hard-core cynic to suspect that NBC’s real sense of obligation was to its ratings-conscious stockholders and executives. I wonder, having set the “body count” bar at 33, will the network feel any obligation to publicize the delusional ravings of somebody who can only manage to knock off a couple of dozen innocents? I do feel pretty confident, however, that the next time a mass murderer sends his whacked out apologia to a major network, NBC will feel no “obligation” whatsoever to admit that it may have played just a small part in encouraging such behavior.
Although I have spent the last 35 years teaching college students, I’m afraid that I can’t make much more sense of this tragedy than most of the long-winded pundito-shrinks who have been holding forth on TV and in the papers for the last few days. I do know that in all these years, I have encountered no more than a half-dozen students whom I deemed even remotely likely to harm themselves or others. Unfortunately, all of these encounters have come in the last few years. For all the freedom they are supposed to afford, college campuses are still very tough places for those who are “different.” I feel pretty confident in saying that racial or ethnic difference is not the barrier to acceptance that it once was, but the fact that a physically attractive Asian-American student who dresses, talks, and acts according to the latest trends and fads can become one with the sisters of Kappa Delta of the brothers of Sigma Nu, doesn’t mean that a warm, assimilating welcome awaits those who not only look different but act differently as well. This of course, applies to any student, regardless of race or ethnic classification.
In just the past 10 years at the University Georgia alone, I have taught well over 3,000 students. Most have seemed happy, accepted, and well-adjusted, but a noticeable minority have not. Parents used to worry that the college experience would lead their children astray by corrupting their minds and their morals. These days, it seems to me that the secondary school experience has already accomplished a good bit of this before we even get our hands on the kids. A typical high-schooler seems to believe she or he has two options: conformity or social death.
Like a typical professor, I’m a lot better at identifying problems than presenting solutions. I do know that while we could doubtless argue all day about whether we, as parents and teachers, have played a role in making this happen, it’s difficult to deny that, at the very least, we all share some of the responsibility for allowing it to happen.