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Life on college campuses might never be the same

April 22, 2007|By TIM SHEA

It's been almost 20 years since I graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

When I was a college student, my biggest concerns about life on campus centered around such things as how much more time was left until happy hour or how much money I was going to have to spend on books for the next semester.

As we were reminded earlier this week, times have changed.

Thirty-two innocent lives were taken Monday on the campus of Virginia Tech. Counting Cho Seung-Hui, the 23-year-old gunman behind the horrific events, the death toll was 33.

When I was flipping through the channels on Monday morning and I got to CNN, there was a "Breaking News" story about a death on the Virginia Tech campus.

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As a sign of the times we live in now, I didn't think much of this. Twenty years ago, shooting incidents at schools rarely, if ever, happened. Now, they seem to happen with some frequency.

It was only later in the day, when the phrases "33 dead in Virginia Tech shootings" and "worst shooting massacre in U.S. history" appeared on the television screen that I knew this was more than a routine school shooting incident. As if these things are ever "routine."

There has been a lot of criticism about how things were handled on Monday, particularly regarding why it took so long for many of Virginia Tech's students and faculty members to find out that the first shooting occurred.

Although I agree that notification about the first incident should have happened sooner - a lot sooner - how does anyone prepare to deal with what happened? Virginia Tech President Charles Steger and Police Chief Wendell Flinchum handled themselves very well during the Monday press conferences, especially when questions that couldn't be answered were asked over and over again.

In the end, lessons will be learned. At the very least, colleges and universities will have to take a long, hard look at the safety of students, faculty and others.

But how much can change? You can put in all of the surveillance cameras and other security devices to try to ensure safety. But on a large college campus, if someone is hellbent on causing mayhem, that person will find a way. That's reality.

In a few years, my daughter will graduate from high school and possibly head off to college. Almost 25 years ago, when I was choosing between IUP and Penn State, my biggest concern was whether I wanted to go to a huge campus in State College or go to a medium-sized school and stay closer to home.

I don't know how much school security will play a factor in my daughter's decision. At the very least, it will be in the back of my mind. But I don't think you can make that decision based on the number of surveillance cameras on campus.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Virginia Tech community in this time of tragedy. It's hard to put into words what to say that possibly could make things better.

Nobody could say it better than Nikki Giovanni, a poet, activist and University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech, who said the following at Tuesday's memorial service.

"We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly. We are brave enough to bend to cry ... And sad enough to know we must laugh again. We are Virginia Tech."

Tim Shea is a Herald-Mail copy editor. He can be reached at tims@herald-mail.com.

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