We were in elementary school when the Oklahoma City bombing took place, in middle school when the Columbine massacre occurred, and in high school on 9/11. Last week, college students faced a new tragedy, as 32 of our peers were murdered at Virginia Tech.
Through past disasters, a network of parents and teachers have been in place to walk us through grieving. Now, with the freedom of college, we are on our own to digest this heartbreak.
Local students have struggled with finding a proper way to respond.
“My initial response when I heard about the shootings, honestly, was like, ‘Oh, no, not again.’” said St. Joseph’s sophomore Kristin Johnson. “I feel terrible about what had happened, but I cannot empathize…because it did not happen to my school. I do not feel any different last week than I do today. People may think that is horrible but…I have not experienced [such tragedy] firsthand.”
On the opposite spectrum, Temple junior Brittany Sturges said, “Just because it didn’t happen relatively near us, doesn’t mean we can just acknowledge it briefly, then let it go.”
The way people react to tragedies like Virginia Tech can define a generation.
“The way in which our nation responds during tragedy really speaks to our character as young people,” said Juan Galeano, Student Government President Elect of Temple. “We as a university, and as a nation, came together and demonstrated our solidarity for one another in a time of distress, even while being several states away.”
Students weren’t left completely alone in our grief. Most local schools responded by posting a note of condolence on their websites and sending an e-mail from the President reassuring students of the safety of our campuses.
The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) quickly put together a whole webpage devoted to memorial activities, ranging from prayer services to information sessions with the school’s Counseling and Psychological Services.
Drexel University immediately sent out an e-mail detailing campus safety guidelines.
At most schools, counseling services were readily offered for those struggling with grief and shock.
At La Salle and St. Joseph’s, prayer services for the victims’ families were offered and memorials incorporated into masses.
Candlelight vigils were put together by Drexel University and UPenn administration and students, but the only organized memorial event at Temple was a vigil put together by the Alpha Kappa Lambda fraternity.
“I haven’t heard anything about memorial activities being held on campus,” said Temple senior Josh DeNutte. “I’m sure there were probably some sort of event held, but Temple is terrible when it comes to communicating events to students.”
These kinds of communication complications raise new questions about campus safety among local students.
“I don’t think [any school] is equipped, or able to be equipped, for this type of tragedy,” said Arcadia University junior Donna Gambale. “The only thing I can think of is to possibly set up some type of alert system or warning system for the campus.”
There are no easy solutions to this problem and students understand that campus safety will always be a problematic issue.
“I feel that campuses across the country, including Drexel, will be responding to this situation for a long time,” said Drexel student Michelle Freeman. “I think that the effects of this tragedy will change the structure of campus security as we continue to deal with the aftermath of this situation.”
With institutional entities, like campus security, still figuring out how to respond to the Virginia Tech tragedy, students have also looked for support outside of our schools. Many of us have turned to our everyday forms of communication, such as Facebook.com, as an answer to the response dilemma.
After hearing of the tragedy, UPenn junior, Ko Im said, “I immediately tried to reach my friend at V. Tech via Facebook. At the same time, my eyes were glued to either the computer or television…”
More than 550 support groups for the Virginia Tech massacre have been created on Facebook, and the VT logo with a black ribbon has quickly appeared all over profiles. Most of these groups are individual schools acknowledging support of Virginia Tech students, but some take a different track.
The group “How to Support VT Shooting Victims,” was started by a Virginia Tech student with the purpose of petitioning the media to stop the glut of attention the shooter is receiving.
Other students agree.
“I don’t feel as though the media is treating the victims of this tragedy with respect,” Gambale said. “There is too much focus on why the killer did it and finding someone to blame. In this type of situation, there are no clear answers as to why it happened. Va. Tech deserves our support, and they don’t need to be put under a microscope in such a difficult time.”
Some feel that the Facebook groups are pointless and an avoidance of reality, like the groups called, “Enough with the groups about Virginia Tech”, and “I support Reality and Not False Concern.”
Hate groups for the killer, Cho Seung Hui, have also cropped up, triggering a disgusted response in Temple junior Sara Gamble.
“People lost their lives and families and friendships were destroyed…and people turn to Facebook to make fun of the kid. It’s nauseating, she said.
Facebook has become a key element in our generation’s grieving process. As college students struggle to find a way to respond, groups like “I Support College kids everywhere” are being created to form a support network among peers.
“What happened at Virginia Tech is an example of a student feeling isolated from everyone to the point where he decided to not only take his own life, but the lives of 32 others as well,” said Juan Galeano. “What we need to focus on is engaging those around us…sometimes just by doing the smallest gesture such as smiling at someone can go a long way in improving the feeling of being part of a greater community—the most important social aspect of college and life.”
You can contact Prasana William at firstname.lastname@example.org.