Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ron Silliman on the Virgina Tech Tragedy

The poet Ron Silliman has a nice post up about the Virgina Tech shootings. It's very worth the few minutes to read.

Here is the intro:

I’ve walked around all week vaguely nauseated & depressed by the events at Virginia Tech on Monday. Remembering that one of my sons, at the age of four, announced he intended to go there to college – I hadn’t even heard of the place before he mentioned this, but he’d apparently heard from friends that it was an excellent school for science & engineering. The piranha-like feeding frenzy of the cable news networks on campus on Monday was itself as horrifying as it was barren of actual news. Hearing that a German professor had been shot in the head in front of his class, I was able to find out which German class was being held in Norris Hall online in about five minutes & thus knew that Jamie Bishop, the son of sci-fi & mystery writer Michael Bishop, was almost certainly dead almost 36 hours before I finally saw it confirmed by the Wednesday New York Times.

On Tuesday, the world learned that the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, was a student who had been taking creative writing courses & had so alarmed his instructors with his writing & his actions in the classroom that they had sought outside assistance from the school administration, the counseling center, even the police, only to be rebuffed consistently. Lucinda Roy, the novelist who co-directs the program, had taken him on, teaching him in a one-to-one setting just to keep out of the classroom with his peers. Even then, The New York Times reports, she felt sufficiently concerned about him that she had a code for her T.A. who would know when to call security.

This reminded me of my own admittedly limited experience as a professor and of one student in particular at UC San Diego whose writing spoke of high school suicide gestures – she had apparently been “a cutter” – and was utterly fixated on food. I spoke to her at the time about the value of counseling and noted that she was so focused on this single topic that she couldn’t write about anything, even it, since the topic so overwhelmed her. But the term ended and with it my employment at the school & stay in San Diego. I don’t know if she ever got the help she needed.

People with psychotic diagnoses most often have their first episode in the 19-22 age range & can seem completely “normal,” whatever that term might mean, before then. On any large college campus, this means that faculty have some opportunity to come into contact with a student once in awhile who is becoming completely unhinged at a time when they may be apart from their previous social supports – family, community, church or temple – and may have become exceptionally socially isolated. There is hardly anyone lonelier than a college student away from home the first time who doesn’t know how to fit in. Toss in paranoia & unfolding schizophrenia and you have a stew brewing that can turn into trouble.
Read the rest.

At the end he refers to the poet Nikki Giovanni's speech given on Tuesday. Here it is -- not her best work, but in the context, very effective.




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