Beneath the cold facts of the Virginia Tech shootings – 33 dead and 15 wounded – lie questions that could linger for years to come.
While there aren’t clear answers, examining past events and the trends that emerge could help, said Michael Daine, director of the University Counseling Center at CSU.
“It is very hard to predict these kinds of things,” he said. “If you look at this event and previous events, one hallmark characteristic is isolation.”
In past shootings, like Columbine, the perpetrators have had few meaningful relationships or connections to the community, he added.
One cause of the isolation in this case may be the size of the university. In a larger school like Virginia Tech (or CSU, which is of comparable size), students may feel more like a number, and such feelings of isolation may go unnoticed.
Withdrawal, aggression and hostility may be signs of concern, Daine said, but he encourages people not to jump to conclusions, as most people who show these characteristics will not commit serious acts of violence.
“Who knows what would have happened if someone reached out to this person?” Daine said. “We need to take the time and reach out to one another.”
But gender may be another aspect to consider.
“Women don’t do this,” he said. “At least they haven’t so far.”
Travis Annan, a former Men’s Project participant and co-chair of End It, a group of men working to teach others about sexual assault, said society may be partly to blame in the way it socializes men and women.
“These are extreme cases, so it is hard for me to wrap my brain around it,” Annan said. “But I absolutely think the way we’re taught growing up can play into it.”
“I think men are culturalized differently,” he said. “It’s more OK for them to act violently in this way.”
Also, behavioral changes such as sleeping more or less, an increase or decrease in appetite or drinking are signs someone may not be handling the situation effectively.
Some students may turn to drugs or alcohol to help calm their feelings, said Pam McCracken, director of Outreach and Prevention Programs for the UCC.
“I would be aware of someone drinking more or more often, actually saying they’re going to drink and anything that is interrupting their normal routine,” McCracken said. “Anything that is out of synch for that particular person.”
To help friends or family deal with the situation, the counseling center asks people to simply listen.
“Allow them to talk about their feelings,” Daine said. “You don’t have to be a professional to do that.”
The counseling center offers walk-in counseling throughout the day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Students can talk with a counselor almost immediately. For after-hours assistance, students can call the police department at 491-7111, and dispatch will connect them with on-call counselors.
“Sometimes it helps to talk with someone you don’t know, someone who is more objective,” Daine said.
Media can also impact people’s reactions, and Danielle Oakley, associate director of the University Counseling Center, said it can be helpful to stay away from the television.
“What we learned from 9/11 is that people who weren’t there (but watched the events on television) were traumatized,” she said.
For more information about how to cope with this event, Oakley recommends visiting www.counseling.colostate.edu or www.helping.apa.org.
College Avenue Editor in Chief Caroline Welch can be reached at email@example.com.