Creative writing faculty members at Virginia Tech recently established guidelines for professors and teaching assistants on how to respond to “disturbing and strangely violent student writing,” according to a report from Inside Higher Ed.
The bigger problem, however, lies mostly in poor communication among different levels of the mental health and educational systems. It’s strange to see one of the first acts being taken is to profile students on potentially dangerous writing.
The Washington Post summarized the final report of the panel that investigated Virginia Tech’s massacre. It cited “communications breakdowns, gaps in the mental health system and confusion over student privacy laws” as broad primary issues that led to the shooting. It also stated that the solution might take years and action from the federal government to see change in these policies.
Detailed issues included “communication lapses [existing] between [Seung Hui Cho's] high school and college officials, his doctors and Virginia Tech officials, and the students and faculty members on campus the morning of the shootings.”
Shouldn’t Virginia Tech administrators be more concerned with taking active steps toward closing the gaps that could stop students from getting to the point of writing disturbing fiction?
True, demanding action from the federal government is a long and arduous road, but one that’s more important. It’s faster and easier to take the route of formulating makeshift crisis management policies than take on “the man.” As they say, you can’t fight city hall.
The guidelines from the creative writing faculty walk professors and T.A.’s through steps on reporting students to administrators. It’s based on the university’s hierarchy, which would then take quite a while to get through.
There is also such an emphasis on student privacy that no action can be taken until the university is involved at the final stage, and who knows when that would be.
The reality of this situation is that students really are lost in the shuffle when they go to college. At big-name universities, they become numbers without histories. The loss of identity only becomes a problem when the history behind the number is a dangerous one.