One Virginia Tech question

From the Moveable Type blog, April 18, 2007. Edited to fix linkrot; thank God for Google’s cache.

There’s one thing that stands out in all of the profiles of Cho Seung Hui – the fact that this was a student who was miserable, disturbed, and within himself. His writings for classes were clear hints of the damage he could do, and how little he would care about those he hurt. The faculty who taught him were quite aware that something was deeply wrong, but those who were able to muster up the sense/courage to talk to him and offer help were systematically shunned.

What the heck do you do if you’re Nikki Giovanni?

Cho (whose full name is pronounced joh sung-wee) appears first to have alarmed the noted Virginia Tech poet Nikki Giovanni in a creative writing class in fall 2005, Giovanni said.

Cho took pictures of fellow students during class and wrote about death, she said in an interview. “Kids write about murder and suicide all the time. But there was something that made all of us pay attention closely. None of us were comfortable with that,” she said.

The students once recited their poems in class. “It was like, ‘What are you trying to say here?’ It was more sinister,” she said.

Days later, seven of Giovanni’s 70 or so students showed up for a class. She asked them why the others didn’t show up and was told that they were afraid of Cho.

“Once I realized my class was scared, I knew I had to do something,” she said.

She approached Cho and told him that he needed to change the type of poems he was writing or drop her class. Giovanni said Cho declined to leave and said, “You can’t make me.”

What do you do if you’re Lucinda Roy?

Giovanni said she appealed to Roy, who then taught Cho one-on-one. Roy, 51, said in a telephone interview that she also urged Cho to seek counseling and told him that she would walk to the counseling center with him. He said he would think about it.

Roy said she warned school officials. “I was determined that people were going to take notice,” Roy said. “I felt I’d said to so many people, ‘Please, will you look at this young man?’ ”

Roy, now the alumni distinguished professor of English and co-director of the creative writing program, said university officials were responsive and sympathetic to her warnings but indicated that because Cho had made no direct threats, there was little they could do.

“I don’t want to be accusatory or blaming other people,” Roy said. “I do just want to say, though, it’s such a shame if people don’t listen very carefully and if the law constricts them so that they can’t do what is best for the student.”

What do you do if you’re a professor, you genuinely care, you want to see your student get to a healthy place in life, and you’re shut off at every turn?

Of course, it’s still early days, and there’s still a lot of journalism yet to be done and a lot of story yet to be told. But I can’t help but feel like Virginia Tech comes off looking very good here. Giovanni and Roy come off as caring, compassionate professors that you wouldn’t expect to find at a larger school. There are others who have been written about who don’t come off quite so well in the stories, but only under the influence of Cho’s strange (and, in most cases, belligerent) behavior.

He simply didn’t want to be helped. What do you do? What can you do?

This is going to be the reason another generation of kids are watched and forced into counseling or suspended from school simply for WRITING about killing or about suicide. I’m not saying that’s right. I’m saying that good people who are at wit’s end over this – and about the epidemic of senseless violence we’ve fallen into – are going to be desperate to do something.

I have no answers, only the rant.

(It occurs me that I’ve just taken a nice swath of time that was otherwise going to be used for not sounding like an idiot in class and spent it pounding out notes on the keyboard – and that has been happening more than a bit lately, first harvesting old stuff I’ve written, and now writing new stuff. I’m afraid something significant has been going on here, and – monkeys who own me aside – the theme of the writing on the front page of this blog speaks to what I’ve seen going on around me lately, and how much it concerns me.)

(UPDATE: Heh. Eric Burns was thinking a lot of the same things last night.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.