The shots fired in the tragedy at Virginia Tech on Monday have echoed across the country and around the world, ringing loudest at American universities. Since then, the shooting spree that ended 33 lives has claimed another casualty: peace of mind.
News of the massacre has shattered the illusion of safety on college campuses. Here at the U of C, we were accustomed to the dangers inherent in an urban environment but considered the quads a safe haven from the perils of the real world. No longer.
That said, the U of C administration has done an outstanding job in the aftermath of the shooting, taking immediate steps to ensure the safety and psychological well-being of students and staff. On Monday, officials from the University, the Hospitals, the U of C Police Department, and the Chicago Police Department met to review contingency plans, including numerous methods of communication in the event of an emergency. The administration further reduced apprehension by sending every student an e-mail tackling the question that nobody wanted to ask: How safe are we here?
In addition to enhancing our physical security, administrators moved quickly to support the spirit and psyche of the student body. An interfaith memorial service held yesterday afternoon in Bond Chapel offered the opportunity for solace and spiritual reflection, providing a venue for mourning and uniting the community. Counseling services have also been widely publicized, reminding students that mental health professionals, residential staff, and religious leaders are always available. Any student significantly upset about the shooting should take advantage of these resources, regardless of whether he has a direct connection to Virginia Tech; the mere knowledge of such senseless violence is enough to feel depressed and disturbed.
The University deserves equal credit for what it has not done—impulsively made drastic changes in response to the experience in Blacksburg. Only in retrospect do the warning signs exhibited by the shooter fit together, and large universities cannot monitor the behavior and emotional stability of their many members. Overzealous attempts to detect troubled students would unacceptably intrude on privacy, punishing students for innocuous actions. Not every student who writes macabre plays has homicidal intentions, and not every student on antidepressants is a threat to his peers. Rash actions on the part of administrators, however well intentioned, would only create an atmosphere of hysteria, increasing tension but not security.
We send our hearts to the victims of this terrible tragedy, their families, and the entire Virginia Tech community. We also commend area security personnel and the U of C administration. We are grateful for their efforts to protect students and staff.