Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Mourning After

I am still too stunned by yesterday's events to offer any insight into them. I think we are all waiting for more information to help us make sense of the tragedy -- realizing what little sense there is to "make" of it (i.e., no matter what details might emerge).

I respond to the event on many levels, and through several different lenses -- as a parent, as a prof, and, naturally, as a citizen on this planet where violence is all too common, everyday.

It's as a prof that I write this particular post, in that I have been wondering what support the faculty community might give to the community at Virginia Tech. The fingerpointing is already well underway, and we can only hope that the blame game leads to insight, and not mere calumny. What role can and should faculty play here? I wonder.

I was mulling over this question (i.e., what can *I do?), when I went to the Chronicle and discovered this item, which I reprint below. It is *not how I answer my own question, not at all, though it does narrow the "role of faculty" generally down to English professors in particular, and the relationship we have with our students viz. their writing.

Student Was 'Troubled,' Says English Department Chair

Blacksburg, Va. — Cho Seung-Hui, the student responsible for yesterday’s mass killing at Virginia Tech, was a “troubled” student, said Carolyn Rude, chair of the university’s English department, today.

Within the past two years, she said, faculty members repeatedly reported their concern about things the 23-year-old student had written in his creative-writing courses.

The chair of the English department at the time, Lucinda Roy, passed those concerns along to administrators, Ms. Rude said.

“Enough faculty called it to the attention of the then-chair,” Ms. Rude said. She would not elaborate about what Mr. Cho had written, nor would she describe his behavior, saying she did not know him. —Robin Wilson

Many "troubling" questions here -- no answers, certainly. Your thoughts are welcome, on any of the above, but certainly on the question of what faculty might do.

Post-script, April 18: I understand that there are sites on Facebook to pay one's respects. I created a site, but found that while people visited, they were not posting, which I wholly understand; it did not feel right to leave the site up, though. We're all responding in our own ways.


Karet said...

It sounds like Cho was not only recognized as "troubled" by his teachers and peers: he was obviously mentally ill. Certainly, I've never had a student exhibit such extreme behaviors (as are now being reported) -- although I've wondered many times about the student who wrote on my teaching eval (my last year as a grad student) that she wanted to dismember me and all of the other students in the class (I know who it was. I don't think she *really had violent tendencies. But maybe in the future I will take such things more seriously?)... In any case, I must admit that I am glad Cho wasn't someone who seemed perfectly nice and normal, and suddenly snapped.
One more, probably totally inappropriate remark:
when I first turned the news on the radio in my car yesterday, I heard that 30 people had died and, of course, assumed it was a report about Iraq. But that would be ho-hum, an everyday occurance. No half-mast at the White House for those unlucky dead.


Thanks, Karet. I don't know that that remark is inappropriate -- as with any such calamitous event, the situation challenges and upends perspective in a way that we see things that we have psychologically accommodated anew.

I am interested to see how the situation with the English chair at VT plays out.

And I am gratified to hear of the various symbolic acts taking place on campuses across the country (perhaps because I'm in Canada, I feel somewhat removed from them . . .?)

Though it would be sheerly symbolic, I have considered setting up an online vigil of sorts, a kind of blog for people to pay their respects (even anonymously) and for the VT community to read, if they so wished. People place candles and flowers at accident sites; or attend candlelight vigils to commemorate victims and protest the violence. Again, though it would be largely symbolic, there must be a way the online community could also pay their respects. . . just an idea -- and perhaps already out there (I tend to be behind the curve).


Amanda Bonner said...

Hey G,

There are quite a few on-line tributes going up on Facebook, and one specifically linked to Queen's here.

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with Karet to the degree that all deaths are not treated equally in the United States, in general, and by the media, in particular. As we are all too well-aware, our foreign policy has laid waste to the people and countrysides of Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years, yet, we, as a nation have little memorial or compassion for them in the daily news.


Too true; thanks for posting. As Karet suggests, that starts from the top: if there's no half mast at the White House, say, for the 171 killed in Baghdad yesterday, and images of coffins coming home from the Middle East are verboten.

Those directly affected by the deaths in Blacksburg are experiencing a loss related to the assumption that they had not sent their loved ones into a war zone. That we have become accustomed and inured to the daily loss of life (and vast destruction of culture ) in Iraq and Afghanistan functions to diminish our sense of alarm that our soldiers were sent there in the first place.