Last Thursday, Bill May, a retired professor from Indiana University, was found murdered in his Indiana home. Although his killer's motive was probably robbery, the case interests me because of May's profession. Whenever I hear about any sort of violence to one associated with a college, I feel an sense of remorse. This is not to say that I simply brush off other terrible news, but that there is something in these evils that unnerve me because they are linked to an university community. When the news hits this close to home, one must stop to ponder what the causes and effects are of such a loss. And further, I question what resources are in place to aid in the possible prevention of such saddening tragedies.
The most publicized recent murder of professors occurred in January 2001 when Half and Susanne Zantop, two Dartmouth educators, were brutally stabbed to death. Sadly, when their murderers arrived at their door, the Zantops invited them into their home to help answer their questions. In return for their hospitality, they lost their lives.
This kindness and eager willingness to aid others seems to be a trait that perhaps we, as students, tend to forget about or even not recognize in our educators and mentors. Most professors are not simply in their chosen profession to gain prestige and build their own self worth. They are motivated by a love of learning and a desire to share their knowledge and desire for knowing with others. This is the something that students do not always realize. Often we blame a low mark on a professor, simply because it seems easier than recognizing our own weaknesses. Indeed, we can easily be angered at someone else rather than acknowledge our own faults.
Although the murders of the Indiana University and the Dartmouth professors may have been committed in the course of robberies, other examples serve to suggest that this has not been the only motive in such crimes. There have been instances where students have turned to violence on their teachers because of anger. One could suggest that the motivations of these attempts point to excessive stress and anxiety about academic success. These fears can realistically pilot violent behavior. It is thus quite a frightening prospect when one thinks of all the stress that students have at the U of C. What avenues do students have to channel their stress?
I should also point out that there have also been instances where professors have become violent towards their students and other campus community members. In 1992, a mechanical engineering professor killed two people and injured three in Concordia University in Canada after fearing that he might lose his job. Students are not the only campus members that are stressed. It seems that perhaps there is a common perception that only students have the potential to become dangerous. Indeed, this is not accurate.
The underlying point of this is to demonstrate a need to reexamine the structures at Chicago to help prevent and offer aid to potentially violent students. Do we have areas that the campus community can turn to for objective assistance? If we do, then why isn't their existence common knowledge? One could easily argue that if a member of the University community turns to aggression, he or she has surpassed the point where he or she can freely seek assistance for their stress.
The upcoming College Orientation should highlight these concerns and should encourage new students and counseling and support staff to get to know each other better. Also, the students should become informed of their opportunities to take advantage of these services.
The Student Counseling and Resource Service Center on campus seems to be an excellent place to turn to with any sorts of stress issues; for example, they deal with crisis intervention, psychiatric evaluations, individual and group therapy, etc. Indeed, in 1996, they were named the top Counseling Center in the nation, clearly speaking to their ability to offer the campus community a sense of guidance and a foundation on which to efficiently channel any negative feelings. Other areas that the campus can turn to are the Dean of Students and the Ombudsman's Office, both offering further assistance.
Perhaps my feelings about this issue are a bit sensitive, being a student. Yet, my life as a college student involves anactive participation in my campus community and caring for the well-being and safety of all its members. The recognition that all at the University of Chicago form an intimate community should also allow one to note his or her role as a responsible member of this place we all call home.