Massacre Exposes America’s Dirty Campus Secret

April 19, 2007 by  


Courtesy Earl Ofari Hutchinson, New America Media, News Analysis

Editor’s Note: As people struggle to understand the violence of the murders at Virginia Tech, NAM writer Earl Ofari Hutchinson suggests it reflects a growing trend in campus violence. Hutchinson’s new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York) in English and Spanish will be out in October.

There were two monstrous tragedies at Virginia Tech. The first was the colossal shock and horror of the murder of 33 people. The second was that as monstrous as the rampage was, it is only the most extreme form of the violence that has quietly torn many campuses apart. The exhaustive white paper on campus violence issued by the American College Health Association in 2005 was an early warning that campus violence is a far bigger problem than many campus officials are willing to admit. The report found that many campuses are not the safe and idyllic bastion of student tranquility and peace that campus administrators like to present to prospective students, parents, alumni, donors and the general public. The white paper ticked off a high rate of rapes, assaults, physical harassment, taunting, stalking, and suicides that plague many college campuses.

However, the 23 murders or non-negligent manslaughters that have taken place on American campuses was only the tip of iceberg of campus violence. Only 25 percent of the violent crimes were actually reported. A significant number of faculty and students flatly told the researchers that they actually feared for their safety. One of their biggest fears was gun violence.

This was not unfounded. Guns were involved in more than one-third of all violent student crimes. Researchers also blamed the continued and possibly escalating campus violence on “male competition and aggression.” In almost all cases, the shooters and aggressors were male. The student killer was typically profiled as a frustrated, socially isolated male who killed to settle a grudge with a professor or a failed sexual or love relationship with another student. Police officials speculate that this might have been the possible motive of the Virginia Tech killer.

In some cases, alcohol or drugs were involved, and the inevitable finger of blame was pointed at the pervasive violence in movies and videogames that many male students obsessively play and enjoy. The white paper recommended that campus officials implement or drastically overhaul their anti-violence programs. That includes better student screening programs, targeted educational programs for faculty clergy and student resident advisors, expanded on-site counseling, beefed up student support networks, and 24-hour student access to emergency services.

The major danger, however, continued to be student and faculty silence in reporting the crimes, and the tendency of administrators to gloss over of the crimes that occurred. The catch-22 failure of many administrators to aggressively encourage students and faculty members to report crimes, especially violent crimes, deeply affects the ability of some colleges to recruit and retain students. A victim of a violent attack often finds that the trauma affects their classroom performance.

The white paper was a landmark study of campus violence and its causes. It should have been a wake-up call for campus officials to do and say more about the danger of campus attacks, but that wasn’t the case. Campus officials were mostly mute on it; the report drew almost no media coverage, and quickly passed from the public’s radar.

There will be intensive official investigations into what went wrong, why the killings happened, and what Virginia Tech officials did or didn’t do to stop them. That will tell much about whether the students were right to hammer school officials for the sharply raised body count. But if the students are right in their bitter charges it’s only the latest – though by far deadliest – in the pattern of turning a bllind eye to deadly violence on campuses. That’s the dirty secret that the Virginia Tech horror terribly exposed.

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