Campus killer's teacher calls for more education

21st April 2009, Comments 0 comments

A decade after the infamous Columbine High School massacre that left 13 people dead and 23 others wounded, English professor Roy published a book -- "No Right to Remain Silent" -- that calls for stronger counselling services for troubled students.

Washington -- The epidemic of shooting rampages in universities and schools has become a "global phenomenon" that calls out for more investment in education and monitoring of students, according to Lucinda Roy, a professor at Virginia Tech.

Just over two years ago a 23-year-old South Korean man, one of Roy's students, shot dead 32 students and teachers before killing himself, in the bloodiest campus killing spree in US history.

Now, ten years after the infamous Columbine High School massacre that left 13 people dead and 23 others wounded, English professor Roy published a book -- "No Right to Remain Silent" -- that calls for stronger counselling services for troubled students.

Roy was the only teacher who observed warning signs with the Virginia Tech killer, Cho Seung-Hui. She pointed out her worries to the school's psychological services, but due to strict rules of confidentiality, the college failed to register Cho's potential danger.

"We are very poor at responding to troubled students and severely disturbed students," Roy said.

"That's true not just for Virginia Tech but throughout the United States and other countries as well," she said, noting that there was only one counsellor for every 2,700 students at Virginia Tech at that time.

After the killings, the number of students seeking psychological help jumped from 8,000 (in the 2005/2006 school year) to 11,000 (in 2007/2008), out of a total student population of 29,000.

In her book Roy ponders her perceived guilt in the tragedy after her lone warning ahead rampage. Reclusive and quiet Cho's alarming diary entries accused his peers of genocide and cannibalism.

"Students-shooters are not in hiding," Roy says in her book. "They are out in the open."

What Virginia Tech experienced was "not an aberration but a mounting rage among a small minority of young people who see themselves as both victims and vigilantes," she writes.

University shootings have become "a global phenomenon, and Finland, Germany have seen attacks fairly recently," said Roy.

Germany reeled last month after 15 people were gunned down near Stuttgart by a teenager who took his father's gun and went on a vicious rampage in his old school.

Education systems can be very impersonal, Roy said.

"Students can go through the system, especially in large schools, and be almost invisible, never be asked for their name or to answer a question."

The key, according to Roy, is more education, and specifically, more writing, where the problem is often first noticed.

When students can participate in small writing classes, and an instructor is able to ensure that everybody tries to communicate and participate, "then it can be the time the student is really known as a person."

Creative writing can allow "tremendous freedom," said Roy. "Students feel there are in a safe space and they write what's on their mind."

As such, sometimes, when young people are able to express themselves in short stories, poetry or essay writing, what is on their mind can very troubling, Roy said.

"Most of the time it doesn't mean they are going to do anything violent, but on rare occasion they can."

Earlier this month, Virginia Tech reopened the building where the tragedy unfolded for the first time in two years.

Cho locked the doors from the inside before squeezing off 174 rounds in nine minutes, gunning down 30 people and then killing himself. Earlier that morning, he had shot dead two others in a dormitory across campus.

Roy saw the signs clearly, noting Cho's "enraged" writings in her class and being alarmed by his disturbing behaviour towards her that suggested he was "very angry in a deep seated way."

But, she said, her book on the tragedy and her calls for change to approaching troubled students cannot be seen as a "celebration" of campus killers.

"One has to understand that these school shooters want fame more than anything, which is why they do this in the first place.

"It's a performance for them and they want to find the biggest they can find, they can perform something that's very bloody and have people be shocked and appalled by it."

It's important, said Roy, to not glorify the mass killer or turn them into iconic, larger than life personalities."

In her research for her book, Roy worried that had encountered Internet where "so many young men are ... saying they want to beat Cho's tally and kill more than he killed."

AFP/Expatica

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