April 16, 2007 is one of those dates of national tragedy that seem to mark a point in time where we can say things will never be the same again. It has been ten years since that horrific day when a mentally troubled student at Virginia Tech shot and killed 32 and wounded 17 more. In today’s post, I want to remember the events of April 16th and reflect on where we’ve come in higher education since that time.
There was Columbine before and Sandy Hook after (and countless other tragedies throughout), but the shooting at Virginia Tech was an event that shocked the nation generally and higher education specifically.
I suspect all of us that were teaching during that time wondered what we would do if that had happened to one of our classes.
There was anger, frustration, and above all, sadness.
How could so many things have gone wrong? Why couldn’t we have prevented this?
There are lots of questions, but sadly few answers.
As I sit here, a decade after the events of that morning, I still remember what I was doing when I heard the news. Yet, when I think about where we stand in higher education 10 years later, there are some signs of progress and hope.
Campuses today are in a much better position to respond to concerns about students particularly related to mental health concerns. Without a doubt, there is more that can and should be done, but mental health services on campuses across the country are in a stronger position today than 10 years ago.
Colleges and universities have learned the importance and necessity of being able to contact all faculty, staff, and students quickly. Every campus today has an emergency alert system to be able to quickly share information with students. Of course, everyone hopes these systems will never be needed, but we know a man-made event or mother nature will necessitate their use.
These are positive improvement for higher education that came from tragedy.
Unfortunately, there are other less optimistic things confronting colleges and universities now.
If guns and higher education come up in policy debates today, the discussion is likely about allowing guns on campus. Proponents of a “guns for everyone, guns everywhere” philosophy take advantage of our tragedy.
Every incidence of gun violence is a reason for more guns rather than a logical curtailing of gun ownership.
“If those students in the classrooms at Virginia Tech had guns, the tragedy wouldn’t have happened,” they say.
This argument is foolish.
I have yet to hear someone involved in campus safety, student affairs, or university leadership argue this point. Not a one.
Alcohol, hormones, and guns are a terrible cocktail that I fear will create another tragedy on a campus one day.
Though, as I’ve said before, campus carry isn’t about protection or gun control, it is about politics.
Sadly, some have used the Virginia Tech shooting for their own political benefit which is simply beyond the pale.
Ultimately, when I think about Virginia Tech, I think about the people. Those that were lost and those that survived.
For them, we must do better.
Further reading: The Chronicle of Higher Education published a wonderful account by victim turned advocate, Kristina Anderson. I highly recommend reading it as it humanizes the victims far better than I ever could.