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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Media have performed at substandard level in Virginia Tech debacle

Published: April 20, 2007
Section: Opinions

In the wake of tragedies like the Virginia Tech shootings on Monday, it has become the job of journalists and the media to not only inform the public, but to comfort the American people as well. Taking these important tasks into account, I feel that the major news sources have performed at a substandard level at both (the media has chosen to ask more questions about Cho Seung-Hui guns than celebrating the lives of his victims), and that I should at least attempt to speak to the community here at Brandeis that I have been given an outlet to address.

The murders in Blacksburg are unfortunately yet another terrible event in a series of violent occurrences that has defined our generation. If one was to write about the role of television on people our age, he/she would set a timeline that begins with the ethnic cleansings after the Cold War, followed by the massacre at Columbine when we were in middle school, then the searing images of 9/11 in high school, and now the shooting spree occurring on a college campus while we are of college age.

These events have produced a generation of people who carry burdens of not just the emotional scars of violence and senseless murder, but of the painful realization of helplessness in stopping further atrocities from occurring. Perhaps we are affected by the violence of our parents generation.

They witnessed a seemingly never-ending series of high-profile assassinations, where lonely and deranged individuals would take their anger out on the people who symbolized the politics or social movements with whom they disagreed. The result may be our collective subconscious suspicion of the dreaded lone gunman makes us reluctant to provoke any real change.

So what will happen to us, the future of this country, as we attempt to participate in the on-going narrative of life in the midst of this palpable fear that at any moment we can become the victim of a person bent on killing as a way of expression?
The short answer to this question is that there is simply nothing that we can do to prevent this kind of thing from happening again. Like the high-profile assassinations of the past (which lasted from the Civil Rights movements in the 1950s till John Lennons death in 1981), these school shootings are how some deeply disturbed individuals choose to become noticed in a world that has either ignored or abused them.

Even worse, the mindset of the killers themselves determines the degree to just how damaging these attacks can be. Nobody can stop someone from wanting to die, and when that same person is particularly enraged, resourceful, and disturbed, then there is nothing we can do to stop this same individual from carrying on an attack like the one on Monday. But while there is comfort to take in cynicism, it is not an effective tool toward solving the myriad of problems that eventually lead to, or even exacerbate, the violence that has been randomly inflicted on us throughout the last decade.

There is no singular action that can be performed that will inoculate our public places from this violence, but there are things that we can do to ameliorate some of the contributing factors to these occurrences. The first step toward this better society must be recognizing the administrative problems within the confined communities of a college or university.

There has been a considerable amount of deserved anger and disdain toward the Virginia Tech administration and Campus Police. Questions about the decisions to keep the school open after the shootings at 7:15 have been compounded by newer allegations. These include accusations that Cho Seung-Hui, among other problems: stalked young women, authored plays that raised alarms among faculty and students in his classes, and had troubling relationships with those in his dorm room.

Taking these problems into account, there are changes that should be made with respect to patrolling College campuses as a whole. First, colleges should be patrolled by local municipal or county law enforcement officers and not private organizations. It is also imperative that a college administration should take firm and swift action for the protection of the rest of us whenever someone is accused of stalking or there is a known infatuation with violence like that of Cho Seung-Hui.

The strengthening of gun laws and similar regulations has to become a priority for our elected officials. With the themes of violence and anger becoming a pre-occupation of so many aspects of our society, it comes as no surprise that these shootings occur in states with incredibly lax firearms laws. Cho Seung-Hui legally purchased these instruments of death in a state where the background check took only a matter of minutes. Within hours of the attack, a Facebook group was created that demanded laws that would allow for students in college to carry concealed handguns, which is probably the single most stupid idea concerning the prevention of these killings. The chances of stopping an attack like that in Virginia Tech with a concealed handgun are completely obscured by the probability that you will harm yourself or others in some sort of tragic accident.

Lastly, we as a community must focus on simple human interaction. The best way that individuals can stop mass shootings like this is to reach out to those students who are having trouble adjusting to life in school and to help them overcome their difficulties. The feelings of loneliness and despair are often aggravated by the stress of school but many people can be helped by simple human contact and patience. If this willingness to help out these troubled collogues becomes too great a burden however, you should never be afraid to tell the authorities–you may save the life of that person and others.

I will close on one sad thought that I have been unable to shake from Monday. Liviu Librescu was one of the several faculty members of Virginia Tech that was murdered on Monday;

he was also a Holocaust survivor. I can not stop thinking about his story. He was someone who was able to overcome the unimaginable suffering inflicted by the Nazis and to live a full life, only to be cut down by some deranged kid. He died trying to save his class by holding the door closed and allowing some of his class to evacuate. I am not a religious person, but when I hear stories like this I do hope that there is a god, and that there is some sort of eternal paradise for people like Liviu Librescu and a source of infinite justice for people like Cho Seung-Hui.