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What a Tragedy April 17, 2007

Posted by gordonwatts in university.

I’m at the APS April meeting (which is why there haven’t been many postings). Since yesterday afternoon everyone has been talking about the shootings at Virginia Tech. How ugly. And as a member of the University of Washington — where a domestic-dispute related murder-suicide happened just a few weeks ago in a building next door to mine — and a “new” parent I find this affects me a more than I expected.

First off, I have no idea how the VT community is possibly dealing with this — we had enough trouble at UW dealing with the grief and (ongoing) fall out from the two deaths at UW. These tragedies defy logical explanation simply because they are not logical. I fear that we will never be able to completely eliminate the chance of something like this happening. In the case of the UW shooting it looks like there are things to examine and fix (for example how restraining orders work, a call for us as members of a society to keep a closer watch on each other). But there will always been ****-heads like that that manage to slip through.

I wish VT the best of luck.

The New York Times already has an article up commenting on how familiar the news cycle has become. And, as if to drive the point home, they already have an editorial up that discusses getting to the bottom of the blame — though not before the facts (and then goes on to suggest gun control, missed signs of personal instability, etc.). It includes the following line:

Campuses are inherently open communities, and Virginia Tech has some 26,000 students using hundreds of buildings over 2,600 acres. It is not easy to guarantee a safe haven.

As a parent I think “How can I keep my kid safe when she (finally) gets to university?!”, but as a faculty member I really don’t like where the parental-half of my brain heads. My parent-brain asks “could we put up a wall?” or something along those lines. As a faculty member I think that would be awful. Universities are supposed to be open communities — and couldn’t the trouble come from within!? Well, we could put up a wall and let everyone in, but only after they go through the equivalent of airport security! 36,000 students. I have no idea how this is going to turn out.

No matter the specific issue that drove the person at VT to do this, the general issue will be discussed. And yet, as a society, we must not become a series of gated communities.

[Update: The best writing I’ve seen of this so far in the nyt is another editorial by a faculty member at VT. Much better than I could ever do.]



1. Qian - April 17, 2007

I heard that on our BBS this morning. It was really sad news. I don’t know what would I do if this thing happened around me. Maybe we should open a course to teach the students how to protect themselves, like Tae-Kwon-Do something?

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