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Computer Science
Bethlehem PA

On School and Safety

Jeff Maher on Wednesday, 18 April 2007. Posted in Campus Safety

The shootings at Virginia Tech have rattled college campuses across the nation. As fellow students, many of us at RIT have shared our prayers, thoughts, and sorrow for our kindred spirits and their families. College is about hope for the future, not getting gunned down by a Glock.

As we move into the aftermath of the tragedy, everyone starts to ask "Why did this happen?"

College is a time that can bring out the best and worst in us. Some of us will take the opportunity to tune our strengths, meet new people, and see all the good things we can do in the world. Others have a different experience. On campuses the size of VT (or RIT), it's very easy to feel isolated and alone - more like a number than a person. Most of the time, lonely and aggravated people don't pick up a gun - they just surf the web and start flame wars on forums. Unfortunately, every once in a blue moon, someone like Seung Cho finds another form of escapism from their inner-phantoms.

No one really knows why Cho resorted to violence and it's possible we may never understand. Yet, it's easy to start looking for scape goats: bullies, violent media, inept social services, or slow security departments. We starting asking: "Are college campuses really safe?"

Universities are pretty much the most open places in the country. While schools like NYU or Columbia, schools in a big city, have robust security in every building, most do not. RIT, for example, has buildings with open doors at all hours, people roaming all over the place, and really lax security. While I've never visited VT, I have to imagine that it was about the same. It's not hard to imagine that someone may abuse the freedom presented in such an environment. Despite all this, no one should blame the openess of the campus at VT for the massacre - only the killer. Even with heightened security policies, he may have very well planned accordingly and pulled it off anyway.

One of the quotes that I try my best to live up to is one posed by Mahatma Gandhi: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." While it focuses on personal action, it can also mean that we show how we want the world to be by making our own environment an example to all others. To me - the college environment is the embodiment of that principle - an open place that anyone can explore and share their ideas. Why get rid of that because one person out of millions negatively abused that environment? Why lock down thousands upon thousands of college students across the globe because of one anomalous event? It's very much the same thing we dealt with after Sept. 11: How much freedom do we want to give up for the possibility of something bad happening?

This post doesn't really have a coherent theme or flow, and it doesn't really say anything about RIT. You may disagree with how I feel, but I still hope you'll do two things after reading this:
  1. Think about how you would answer some of the questions posed - as a student, as a college administrator, or as someone completely removed from the situation.
  2. Take a moment to meet the victims of the tragedy. If you are a high school or college student, odds are that each was just like you. Remember them.