EDITORIALS

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February 19, 2008

Editorial: Tragedy at NIU

Thursday’s horrific shooting at Northern Illinois University (NIU) has resurrected old concerns about safety on college campuses. The rampage that left six students dead came just 10 months after 33 students were killed at Virginia Tech.

NIU wasn’t the only school to have its peace shattered by gunfire in recent weeks: Two college students in Baton Rouge were shot and killed February 8 by a classmate who then took her own life. A high school student in Memphis is in serious condition after being shot during gym class last Monday. In Oxnard, CA, a shooting at a junior high school last Tuesday left a 15-year-old brain-dead.

School shootings, whether they occur at a grade school on the West Coast or get a university in our own backyard, always hit close to home. It is the nature of a campus to form a tight-knit community that feels protected from the world around it. While certainly subject to problems of their own, schools should be sanctuaries from the troubles of the surrounding environs.

In all instances, speculation about how such an act could happen occurs alongside the initial flood of support and outpouring of grief. In the coming days and weeks, media outlets and concerned citizens alike will look for scapegoats, and likely find them in all the usual places: campus security, the media, our violent American culture. It’s natural to ask why when we are forced to come to grips with tragedy, but searching for scapegoats leads nowhere.

No matter how deeply we probe or how hard we press for answers, we can never fully explain why random acts of violence occur. And while we can and should take steps to tighten campus security whenever it is practical and identify threats when at all possible, the true test of a community’s strength is not in how convincingly it apportions blame, but in how it handles itself in the immediate aftermath of such a tragedy. In this respect, the NIU administration and student paper, the Northern Star, stand out.

The administration stuck to its recently developed emergency plan and gave students new information in a timely fashion, then brought in additional cell phone antennas the next day when the flood of outgoing calls prevented some students from contacting friends and family. The Northern Star similarly distinguished itself, reporting on the shooting before any other media outlet had mobilized and continuing to provide accurate information throughout those chaotic hours.

In times of adversity, the NIU community stuck together. As the wounds slowly begin to heal, that, and not some grasping attempt at an explanation, is the lesson we can draw from this tragedy.

The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Managing Editor, Viewpoints Editors, and an additional Editorial Board member.