Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I suppose, since I often post on education, that I should write... something about yesterday's shootings at Virginia Tech.

However, I don't really know enough about it to write anything substantive; and casting opinions or aspersions around like so much blog fodder would be both immature and presumptuous.

What we will know, eventually, will be facts: X number of people killed, X shots fired, X classrooms. Eventually it will get broken down into X number of minutes between the first shot and campus officials' responses, and by then, of course, the media will have stopped memorializing and started throwing large, heavy stones.

We won't ever know the more important details; the information that could actually help us prevent this in the future. Already there are the usual media shock stories about "is campus security NOT SECURE ENOUGH????!!!!!" and these will be likely to occupy the next few weeks. There is also the crucial "information" that the student involved is "a loner," although (as SepiaMutiny noted), he is not, as was instantly assumed, a Muslim on academic jihad (no thanks to Debbie Schlussel for spreading that one).

But we don't know -- and will probably never know -- what he was thinking, or feeling, and why he was prompted to purchase a gun and enter first a dormitory and then a classroom.

It could be related to the Inside Higher Ed article printed (coincidentally) yesterday morning, which refers to the pervading anxiety experienced by students trapped in a "mandatory" university program, accumulating tens of thousands of dollars in debt with only vague hopes of becoming anything more than, as the article states, "wasted human potential."

The student was, after all, recently identified in the media as a senior English major. And, as the song says, "what do you do with a BA in English?"

But, if we're going to make that assumption (and you betcha, someone's going to make that assumption... watch for it, probably in a New York Times editorial, and see if anyone dares use the "gallows humor" song quote I mentioned above), then we might as well make all the assumptions we can.

The student was South Korean. Was it because Virginia Tech did not offer him enough support in terms of diversity? Were the faculty and students "too white," and did he have no mentor or peers with whom to identify?

The student was also a legal alien. Perhaps he was concerned about our government's newly stringent immigration laws, and the difficulty he might face gaining citizenship.

The student was male. Perhaps he had cottoned on to recent studies that show male students now receive less attention in class than female students. Perhaps this was his retaliation for not being called on in the last lecture.

Perhaps it was even something unrelated to the university, like an assortment of prescription drugs that "cure" depression by "prompting thoughts of homicide."

Or, as MSN has noted, it may have been because he dabbled in disturbing creative writing in his spare time (clearly writing is to blame, because if he had been a good little boy and spent his evenings watching the wholesome antics of CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, and all the Law and Orders, he would never have undertaken a study of violence).

The point is that we won't know. Not even if we find his diaries or his MySpace. We'll just make ridiculous correlations and assumptions like the ones I've just listed.

And it's ironic, because knowing why -- and working towards changing whatever can be changed, if it is something related to community vs. isolation -- is the only thing that can prevent something like this from occuring again.

And yet we'll continue to focus on campus security. You just watch.

*moment of silence for Blacksburg*

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