Could Virginia Tech Massacres Have Been Prevented? Strategies for Prevention and Counseling
Kan V. Chandras
Sunil V. Chandras
David A. DeLambo
Chandras, Kananur, Ph.D., NCC, LPC, has been a counselor educator for the last 35 years. He taught in India, Canada and the United States. He has published 10 books and a number of articles in refereed journals. He serves as an editorial board member of two national counseling journals. His research interests are: multicultural counseling, research, online learning, at-risk students, school violence and other counseling related topics.
Chandras, Sunil V., CHT, is a student. He served on many committees and has presented in ACA and AMHCA conferences. His interests are in multicultural counseling, counselor education preparation, research and psychopathology.
DeLambo, David A., Rh.D., CRC, has been a rehabilitation counselor educator for more than ten years. His expertise and interests are: rehabilitation counselor preparation, multicultural counseling and online learning.
Based on a program presented at the ACA Annual Conference & Exhibition, March 26-30, 2008, Honolulu, HI.
President Bush stated that it was the worst day of violence in the history of the United States (Bush, 2007). The massacres started on Monday morning of April 16, 2007. By afternoon, thirty-three people were dead including the gunman, Cho Seung-Hui. The disgruntled and mentally deranged student opened fire in a dormitory and a classroom building, killing at least 32 people and injuring many others (Smith, 2007). In order to examine prevention strategies, this timeline of Virginia Tech’s massacre is provided:
Since the Columbine school shootings, American schools, colleges and universities have been plagued by new attacks and threats (“UGA Student Jailed,” 2007). In the aftermath of Virginia Tech shootings on Monday, April 16, 2007, bombs, threats and other incidents filled the post-Virginia Tech landscape. Taking no chances, four more colleges, University of Cincinnati, University of South Carolina at Columbia, State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill, and Terra Community College in Ohio, have reacted aggressively to threatening incidents that otherwise might have passed quietly (“Bombs, Threats, and Other Incidents,” 2007). Threats shut down colleges in Mississippi and Washington, Delta
State University and Yakima Valley Community College (“Threats, Shut Down,” 2007). These incidences and the resulting unrest in our educational institutions, both public and private, have been reported in the mass media (ABC News, April 29, 2003; Time, 2001) highlighting the growing tendency of students to engage in interpersonal violence. Violence is a problem not only in urban and suburban institutions but also in rural institutions, with more adults, adolescents and children being both perpetrators and victims (Chandras, 1999). Typically, the perpetrators have been young, typically disgruntled, Caucasian males (only a small proportion of incidences involve female students, Pennsylvania, March 7, 2001). Smith (2007) listed a chronology of major shootings on American college campuses in recent years:
Around the United States, dozens more copycat threats were reported in the media (McGregor, 2007). Surprisingly, these adolescents came from middle and working-class families (Chandras, 1999, 2001) shattering the myth that violent students come from desperate, impoverished families. These tragedies prompt inescapable questions: What are the causes of this disturbing trend? How does one reach that point? What is happening in American families and the larger society to cause adolescents to resort to such violence? What had the parents and school personnel done or not done, to add their schools to the growing list of communities where adolescent anger turned schools into battlegrounds? Alienation, frustration, anger, mental illness and psychotropic drug use may all be the factors in creating a violent situation. In almost all cases, the guns are either stolen, bought or taken from the family members without their knowledge.
After studying the characteristics and backgrounds of these adolescents, the following profile was constructed and may represent the characteristics of the shooters:
Some of these characteristics may fit with any of the attackers. University and school personnel should pay particular attention to these indicators and take necessary action before violence happens (“Va. Tech gunman writings raised concerns”, 2007).
Prevention and Counseling Strategies
There is a dearth of understanding of students by parents, instructors, counselors, and other helping professionals (Perry, 2001). Three key elements that are necessary to combat violence are communication, a positivetrusting relationship and early identification and action in assisting students with mental health problems (CNN News, 2007).
Early Identification Strategies
Colleges and universities may use early identification and counseling of students with mental health problems. In outreach, counselors seek out those who fit the profile and assist them to resolve their problems before violence occurs. The Brazelon Center for Mental Health Law (Wasley, 2007) lists best practices for colleges and universities in dealing with students having mental health problems. The Center emphasizes encouraging students with mental health problems to seek counseling early and follow up on their condition. Colleges and universities should make accommodations for students who suffer from depression, anxiety, personality disorders, or other mental health problems.
Outreach is a technique that utilizes college and community professionals of various backgrounds for help with troubled students. By adopting equitable and fair policies in dealing with students with mental health problems, colleges and universities can help limit their liability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires them to make “reasonable accommodations.”
With Advocacy, the counselor acts as an emissary for the student and asks the assistance of Consultants in providing technical assistance to faculty, parents, administrators and staff and other counselors to identify and remedy problems associated with combating violence. For example, the consultant might recommend a training program in anger management for the students at a college or university.
Many colleges and universities have taken measures to identify students who show early signs of mental health problems. There are red flags and behavioral indicators that counselors and other people with training can identify. In the case of the Virginia Tech shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, no action was taken when he was taken to a mental health center in 2005. Periodically, Cho demonstrated disturbed behavior and he was referred to the university’s Office of Judicial Affairs, the outcome of which was confidential (CNN News, 2007).
Federal Privacy Laws
Members of the U. S. Senate discussed whether changes in federal privacy laws might help colleges and university officials prevent Virginia Tech-like tragedy from happening again. Changes should be made in two federal laws pertaining to the dissemination of information about students: the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly known as HIPAA, and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or Ferpa. These laws strictly limit a university’s ability to share health, disciplinary, and other records of students with other organizations, or even with a student’s parents (Vance, 2007).
Another strategy that could be utilized in colleges and universities is crisis management. It involves strategies of close surveillance of troubled students on campuses. The strategies may include installing metal detectors, communicating trouble spots on campus, telephone A hot lines @ to report crisis situations, sending e-mail, telephone broadcast systems, online postings, public-address systems and text messages to students and faculty, and strictly enforcing laws for criminal acts on campus (Lipka, 2007).
Mediation has been successfully utilized by families, churches, courts and other community agencies. Colleges are encouraged to use mediation on their campuses between students and college personnel. Counselors can educate students to resolve conflicts and disputes through mediation.
Conflict resolution skills training programs brought results and aimed at peer mediation, conflict resolution and anger management (Breunlin, Cimmarusti, Bryant-Edwards, & Hetherington, 2002). It may include violence prevention curriculum and promotion of nonviolence for adolescents (Orr, 2001).
In light of the Virginia Tech’s massacres, counselors, faculty and other personnel should be ready and able to meet crises and prevent when they occur on campuses. Immediate counseling facilities should be available to students and other personnel. It is important toempower students to discover alternative ways of perceiving problems in order to handle them constructively and amicably. Colleges and universities should develop nonviolent environments in which students and faculty can settle differences through discussion, mediation, and compromise. A broad, comprehensive set of immediate policies and procedures must be in place in every institution for prevention as well as immediate response, and must involve faculty, staff, and all other employees. There are many challenges and opportunities faced by colleges and universities.
ABC News. (April 25, 2003). Pennsylvania police probe teen killing, suicide.
Bombs, threats, and other incidents fill the post-Virginia Tech landscape. (2007, April 26). The Chronicle of Higher Education Daily News Blog, pp. 1-5. Message posted to: http://chronicle.com/news/index.php?id=2173&commented=0#txpCommentInputForm
Breunlin, D. C., Cimmarusti, R. A., Bryant-Edwards, T. L., & Hetherington, J. S. (2003). Journal of Educational Research, 95(6), 349.
Bush, G. (2007, April 22). News Report (Television broadcast). New York: CNN Broadcasting Service.
Chandras, K. V. (1999, Fall). Effective counseling strategies to cope with violence in schools. GSCA Journal, 1(6), 1-10.
Chandras, K. V. (2001, March 29). Utilizing peer counselors in conflict resolution. Paper presented at the meeting of the Eleventh Annual Peach State Peer Helpers Youth Conference, Georgia College and State University, Milledgeville, GA..
CNN News. (2007, April 18). Police: Cho taken to mental health center in 2005. Retrieved April 18, 2007 from http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/04/18/vtech.shooting/index.html
Lipka, S. (2007, April 20). Colleges’ safety and risk-management experts begin looking for lessons inVirginia Tech shootings. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1-2.
McGregor, A. (2007, May 22). Judge bars bomb-threat suspect from all schools. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1-2. Retrieved August 22, 2007, from http://www.salemnews.com/local/local_story_142094022/resources_printstory
Orr, T. B. (2001). Students keeping the peace. Current Health, 28(4), 3, 28.
Perry, B. D. (2001). Keep the COOL in school. Scholastic Scope, 50(4), 14.
Smith, L. (2007, April 17). Major shootings on American college campuses. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Message posted to: http://chronicle.com/cgi?article=http://chronicle.com/free/2007/04/2007
Time . (March 19, 2001). School violence. 31.
Threats shut down colleges in Mississippi and Washington. (2007, April 24). The Chronicle of Higher Education Daily News Blog, pp. 1-4. Message posted to: http://chronicle.com/news/index.php?id=2163
Timeline of a massacre. (2007, April 19). ). The Chronicle of Higher Education Daily News Blog, pp. 1-2. Message posted to: http://chronicle.com/daily/2007/04/2007041907n.htm
UGA student jailed, charged after making threatening statements. (2007, May 10). The Telegraph, p. 2B.
Vance, E. (2007, April 25). Senators talk of revising privacy laws in wake of tragedy at Virginia Tech. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1-2. Retrieved May 22, 2007 via Internet Access: http://chronicle.com/daily/2007/04/2007042405n.htm
Virginia Tech gunman writings raised concerns. (2007, April 18). The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1-4. Retrieved April 18, 2007 via Internet Access: http://www.diverseeducation.com/artman/publish/article_7244.shtml
Wasley, P. (2007, May 17). Advocacy group offers guidelines for campuses in dealing with students with mental-health problems. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1-2. Retrieved May 17, 2007 via Internet Access: http://chronicle.com/cgi-bin/printable.cgi?article=http://chronicle.com/daily/2007/05/2007051707n.htm
As an online only acceptance, this paper is presented as submitted by the author(s). Authors bear responsibility for missing or incorrect information.