Lessons Of The Virginia Tragedy

You might not want to hear any more about the Virginia Tech tragedy, for any number of reasons. The shootings have been discussed nearly ad nauseam in the national media for the past week. Four of the five Daily columnists have weighed in on the incident. We’ve been inundated with opinions on gun control, mental illness and violent movies.

Closer to home, The Rock was painted in solidarity with the victims and those who survived. A banner and sympathy signature books sit outside the Starbucks in Norris University Center.

Once the initial shock wears off, though, the time comes to try and distill some conclusions from this painful episode, as difficult as the task might be. As minds begin to regain their objectivity, questions about campus security, mental health policies and the post-Virginia Tech world can be debated with greater clarity.

Security concerns might have been the first thoughts that jumped into many people’s minds following the news that more than 30 people had been shot and killed at Virginia Tech last Monday. At Northwestern specifically, complaints about the inconvenience of the new 24-hour security doors began to ring a little hollow. An elevated fear of intruders undoubtedly trumps having to walk up and down some extra staircases. Still, one hopes even more urgently now that only allowing access to most residence halls and residential colleges through their main doors will actually make students safer.

NU administrators reported that they have reexamined university emergency response measures in light of the shootings. University President Henry Bienen told The Daily last Friday that NU was considering a new emergency warning system that employs text messaging to alert students of campus incidents.

Another aspect of the tragedy that has received much attention is the apparent mental illness of the suspected shooter, Seung-Hui Cho. Pundits and people on the street alike are questioning how Cho, whose violent writings and seeming mental instability alarmed classmates and professors, was allowed to purchase firearms. Why, people ask, couldn’t something have been done before Cho managed to carry out his violent plans?

Although Cho’s case might not represent the legal system at its best, the fact remains that actions such as his are atypical in the extreme, and thus difficult to predict.

An analogy might be drawn to individuals who act as suicide bombers. When the practice began to gain notoriety in the 1980s, scientists attempted to develop a profile of the typical suicide bomber. After years of study, researchers concluded that there was no single dominant characteristic common to all suicide bombers; they could be anyone.

It’s certainly true that there is often something that can be done to improve security measures and detect potentially dangerous individuals. But the best thing that the NU community can do in reacting to the Virginia shootings is to not overreact.

Whenever terrible, unexpected violence strikes, people often place blame and build even bigger walls to hide behind. But withdrawing is never the best solution.

Although the CNN footage from last week might haunt our dreams, that fear isn’t a reason to turn NU into a police state, walling off Allison Hall with razor wire and expelling or committing any student who records violent thoughts on paper. President Bienen himself said that he doesn’t want to turn the university into “an Army camp.”

The fact remains that events like the Virginia Tech tragedy, while they may horrify the public mind, are not necessarily the biggest danger to the health and well-being of NU students. It’s probably better if we work on reducing the number of times we cross Sheridan Road against the light or the amount we drink on the weekends. Although we may never forget the events of April 16, we need to keep them in perspective and not let the terror induced by one disturbed individual define our lives.