Useless Thoughts Running Through My Head

various musings of a generation x kad

Thoughts on Cho Seung-Hui

Posted by thoughtful1 on April 17, 2007

Last night I said I was processing things… I still am. But, last night I also didn’t know enough to move beyond the usual shock and pained bewilderment. Now I know more. We know more. But we still have questions. Which may never be answered.

The shooter, as most everyone knows by now, was a Korean immigrant and a Tech student. He was a loner. His creative writing was disturbing enough that his English professor referred him to counseling. She felt unsafe when she met with him. She reported him to the police, but there was little they could do unless he made explicit threats.

I cannot imagine how she feels right now. She must have felt ill – beyond ill – when she heard that he was the shooter. I wonder if she has spent today asking herself, “What if I had done more…?” over and over again. Or maybe she hasn’t. Maybe she is still numbed from the black pit in her stomach. Maybe she is too busy reassuring her students, her colleagues, her family. Or maybe she is sitting down at her kitchen table with a cup tea, and just… sitting…

Who knows? Who really knows how they, or anyone else, would react to this? And who really knows if anything more truly could have been done? Without turning us into a police state? Gone are the days when colleges and universities were in loco parentis. Someone woke up and asked, “If you are legally an adult at 18, then shouldn’t you be treated as one?” In response, colleges and universities began treating its 18 and older students as adults. So you cannot force an adult college student into counseling because he writes disturbing plays and everything about his manner screams, “I AM GOING TO SNAP!” You cannot force him to undergo for a psych eval because he has no friends and makes no eye contact. You cannot have the police monitor him just because your instincts tell you to fear him. You can’t even notify his parents that you think something is wrong, unless he signed some sort of a release form upon matriculation. And that’s assuming you even had a release form for him to sign.

The solution? I don’t know if this is it, and it is imperfect, but colleges and universities could require their studens to agree to a psych eval if a professor, fellow student, or staff member reports serious concerns about the student’s mental well-being. It could be similar to asking them to agree to not drink before 21, to not do illicit drugs, to not engage in physical violence. Oh, but there we go again – creating a police state on campus. But, how are physcial medical concerns handled? You can call 911 if your roommate is suddenly spouting nonsense and showing signs of a stroke. Why can’t we do something similar when a person’s mental health appears horribly damaged?

Did we, at uglier points in our history, use non-mental health issues parading as mental health issues to lock up people we didn’t like in asylums? I don’t know if that happened, but it would not surprise me if it did. After all, homosexuality used to be a mental disease. Maybe that’s the reason?

Or maybe our collective sense of shame and embarrassment over mental illness makes us treat mental health as a secondary concern. It’s not as important, or as critical, as our physical health. So we failed to build systems to handle cases like Cho’s.

I’m sure others will wonder if his race, ethnicity, and immigrant status played a role. I wondered it myself. But, before we go down that path, we must remind ourselves that there are plenty of immigrants, plenty of Asians, plenty of Koreans in this country who do not buy a gun and then methodically commit mass murder. But, while it is likely that American racism and xenophobia had some influence on Cho, as they do on any Asian immigrant in the US, his extreme actions indicate that something else in his life was terribly wrong.  After all, the US has done a troubling good job at creating white, American born mass shooters, and I haven’t heard anyone ask what it is about white culture that makes some try to shoot as many they can.

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