Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Warning Signs

It's easy to understand how everyone has their own blame theories regarding the Virginia Tech shooting. It has to be someone's fault. Cho Seung-hui is dead, so there has to be some place palpable to put all that anger.

Some have taken the opportunity for political grandstanding, but I do think the many cries for gun control come from a sincere desire to DO something in the face of feeling helpless.

But gun control is not the only issue here. What is more pressing, in my opinion, is monitoring these students who are on the brink of explosion before they self-destruct, taking down others in the process. Ian MacFarlane, a former classmate of Cho's, has posted two of Cho's plays on his blog. I read the first and thought, "How on earth was he allowed to remain on campus?" It isn't because the plays were violent and graphic...we'd have to institutionalize most of Hollywood's greatest directors if that were the criteria. What is so scary about the play I read is that it is so clearly a diary entry. I don't know if Cho had a stepfather who molested him, but I can tell, clear as day, that this was an angry young man who was ready to burst at the seams. The play itself has little structure and is essentially a rant...a stream-of-consciousness display of rage.
Evidently the police referred Cho to counseling back in 2005. According to MacFarlane, he wrote these plays last fall, which would be 2006 by my understanding. MacFarlane notes:
As far as notifying authorities, there isn't (to my knowledge) any system set up that lets people say "Hey! This guy has some issues! Maybe you should look into this guy!" If there were, I definitely would have tried to get the kid some help. I think that could have had a good chance of averting yesterday's tragedy more than anything.

Ah. What recourse do students have to "alert" authorities about their peer? What of the possible backlash? What happens if every quiet, morose, soul instantly becomes suspect? These are no easy answers. But I do believe that schools and colleges need to invest much, much more in their understanding of mental health issues.

I was fortunate enough to go to a small college where the students knew all the administrators and they knew most of the students. There was a young woman who had suffered a great loss and her reaction to this loss brought to light some very disturbing issues. Although I did not feel she was a danger to anyone else, I did think she was a danger to herself. Immediately after I became aware of her behavior, I ran to my voice lesson and called the Dean of Students. There was IMMEDIATE intervention. Her parents arrived within two days and she left campus. She did return a couple of years later I believe and finished her degree--healthier and stronger. She wrote an e-mail to some of us shortly after she had left, thanking us.

I'm not equating her set of problems with Cho's. What I am saying is that a student who is not fit to take a class with his peers has no business being in school, period. This situation should have been handled long before he even bought those guns.

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Mostly Musicology, Teaching, and a bit of Miscellanea