On the shootings at Virginia Tech

On Monday morning I got to work only to find that the power was out, not just at the library but all over
campus. Swarthmore was one of many places in the region whose electricity was knocked out by the nor’easter. We all figured it would come back on before long, but it didn’t.
We stayed open, and a couple of us took turns sitting at
the reference desk with a laptop running on
battery power.

The day already had that surreal feeling that blackouts bring — a sort of uneasy detachment from the 21st
century. Then at midday at the desk, I pulled up the New York Times
online to check the headlines and saw the front-page story about the
shooting at Virginia Tech, just as someone came in and
asked if we’d heard the news.

I can’t stop thinking about how many people I knew at UVa who
knew people at Tech, how many students’ families and friends there must
have been, in Virginia and elsewhere, who spent Monday waiting to
find out if their sons and daughters and friends were among the ones
killed, how many today know someone who died in those classrooms.

Years ago, when I was teaching composition, I had a student I thought might be crazy. He didn’t seem violent, and he dropped the class partway through the semester; even so, I wondered if I should call student counseling, and what, if anything, they could do for him. I suspect a lot of colleges and universities will be scrambling for new policies for monitoring students’ mental health. It seems like there’s no way to anticipate something as awful as what happened at Virginia Tech. But I still find myself thinking, what sets someone off on a mass-murdering rampage? Isn’t there any way to spot it before it happens? I have no policy recommendations, no conclusions; in the end, it’s all but impossible to wrap one’s head around it.

Drexel has already sent around a rather ghastly "What to do in
the event of a shooting" bulletin to all the students. I hope to God we
never need it.

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