Blaming the Victim

Well, we are still digesting this whole event. And it still seems unfathomable.

One thing that I will say is that it is very disheartening to hear all the second guessing/monday morning quarterbacking going on. Especially in the media. They seem to be very intent on trying to assign blame. Now I have nothing against looking back on things and seeing where improvements can be made…after things settle down. But to be in the middle of it and constantly trying to get students to criticize the administration, to constantly try to jump on school officials who had to make the best decisions with the information they had at the time in the middle of a surreal happening just seemed too much like blaming the victim.

I have to say that I feel extremely protective of Va Tech and watching the press go after Dr. Steger and Chief Flinchum felt like Va Tech was under attack again. Yes, I know that the press is supposed to be a “watch dog” and ask the hard questions, but I think that in this case they lost sight of the fact that everyone was doing the best that they could under difficult circumstances. People are human and make judgement calls to the best of their ability. I honestly can not see how officials could have foreseen the second shooting given the information that they had. This was a freak event, especially to happen in a place like Blacksburg. If you need to blame or get angry at anyone, you should blame the shooter. Not Va Tech. No one asked for this. And no one could ever be completely prepared for this.

I really got the feeling that the press wanted a controversy. My favorite was the “expert” on the Today show that said that officials should have called out the national guard after the first shootings which would have “prevented” the second shooting. Please.

The problem is that people want to feel like these awful tragedies are preventable. So if they can point their fingers and say “they messed up” they can continue to believe that this could never happen to them. The problem is that if someone really wants to go shoot at a lot of people, there is not much you can do about it. All the surveillance cameras and card readers are not going to stop them.

I am seeing the same thing happening now that it has become clear that Cho had some major issues. People are saying that he should have been kicked out of school given his problems. Forced into counseling. Again hindsight is 20/20. The problem is that even with all his problems, I personally do not feel that you could have really foreseen this happening with certainty. We would like to think that it is possible to know ahead of time…but again, this is wishful thinking. You really can only do so much. His English professor reached out and tried to help him. It did not work. You can not force someone to take help that is offered. You can not fix someone if they aren’t ready to be fixed or do not think that they are broken.

I do feel that the media has way over played this. Especially the 24hr news channels. I was quickly reminded why I do not typically watch these during the day. The newscasters are sensationalistic and they ask idiotic questions that just highlight how little they know about what they are reporting on. Most reporters did not get what Va Tech was about at all. They saw it as another huge news story that was going to get them ratings. They jumped on anything that moved (I even saw an interview with the Cho family’s mailman…please!)

I will say that I did see one piece where the reporter got it right. Hoda Kotb, an NBC reporter, is a Va Tech alum and I think that she got it dead on when she talked about “Not at My Alma Mater“. (If you can’t get the video to play you can read the transcript)

She got it. The disbelief. What it was like to see men with guns on the drill field in front of the Hokie stone buildings that we all know and remember so well. What it means to be a Hokie and why we love our university (and even love the maroon and orange). And why we will come together and support our own. I think that many of the reporters were surprised by the responses they got when they asked students what their plans were…if they would stay at Tech or if they blamed anyone for what happened. Almost to a person, they focused on what they have at Va Tech. The close-knit community. The people. What an incredible place to go to school it is. The Hokie Spirit. The importance of focusing on coming together in unity.

Oh, and can someone please let the news media know that we go by many names, none of which is Virginia Tech University. We are Virginia Tech. Va Tech. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. VPI&SU. VPI. Even VT. But never Virginia Tech University. If you are going to spend so much time here please do your homework and get it right.

At this point I have given up on mainstream coverage. They have moved into looking for that “heroic story”. And when they find one they (all of them…everyone even Oprah) jump on it. And it is too early. The heroes (and there are many) don’t feel like heroes because they are numb and have not absorbed it all. I saw one reporter ask a kid what it felt like to be a hero. He looked a bit stunned and with his voice cracking, said that he was just glad to be here. Heroes do what needs to be done and often don’t feel heroic. They often feel guilty for surviving. Leave these kids alone. Let them heal. They don’t need the distractions of the media circus this has become and is likely to stay (I really am not looking forward to the Virginia Tech Massacre made for tv movie. It is hard enough as it is just to see the words Virginia Tech Massacre on every channel).

If you want coverage by folks who get who and what Tech is all about, read the Collegiate Times, Va Tech’s student paper. No hype. No worrying about ratings. Just trying to get information out to students and trying to make sense of it all. I can guarantee that you will not see a photo of the Draper’s Meadow Massacre bridge in any mainstream newspapers (any other alums know about that piece of history? (I had to memorize it during my TBS pledging period) and was surprised to see a picture of it included in the photo montage). I was also especially blown away by this column. Like I said, they get it.

I have also been impressed by the coverage of the Roanoke Times. Again, it is personal for them. They know Tech. They were the first to get coverage and I have to guess that it is a little more then just a story for them. This shooting has deeply affected their community of which Tech is a large part. Their special section has a lot of informative articles that gets past the surface stuff that you see in the regular media. And they have a wonderful video piece about the Collegiate Times reporters.

Tech will survive. Hokies all over the world are united in a common bond and Hokie Spirit has never been stronger. Now please give us space and let that healing begin.


About throwingmarshmallows

I am a homeschooling mom to two sweet, energetic boys although I am probably not exactly what you would expect (definitely NOT your stereotypical homeschooler, if there is really such a thing). I support progressive political causes (yes, liberals can and do homeschool!) and I have found a spiritual home in the Unitarian Universalist Church. I have no real idea of how I want to use this blog, but will probably focus on homeschooling, things that I am learning from my boys, personal thoughts and opinions and maybe some liberal politics thrown in, who knows!
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8 Responses to Blaming the Victim

  1. Bravo! I agree with you. I am not an alumi but living here in VA I know many who went to Tech (or are currently going).

    My question is why did someone who was found mentally unstable by a judge 2 years ago, allowed to into a gun shop and within two minutes purchase a semi-automatic pistol? I think if VA had a waiting period and a bona fide background check, this might have been avoided.

  2. JoVE says:

    I’m glad someone who is more connected expressed some of these thoughts. I have a very low opinion of the 24 hour news covereage culture and the kind of “news” we get from it. And I totally agree with your point about how folks want to think that this sort of thing is preventable. I would only add that this sort of things happens very very very rarely and you can hardly blame the admin for not being prepared for such a freak occurance.

    I also agree with your point about not being able to force people into counselling. And if we started limiting the rights (e.g. to a good education) of folks who write disturbing stories, I wonder where Stephen King (for example) would be today. Not everyone who thinks disturbing thoughts and commits them to paper does this sort of thing. In fact, it could be argued, that writing them down might be enough release for some folks.

  3. Steph says:

    I have been thinking – and saying – the same things. I think the most terrifying thing for we humans is to acknowledge and accept that Horrible, Unthinkable Things Happen For No Good Reason – and Probably No One Could Have Prevented It. We need reasons, and we try to trade our confusion and sadness for self-righteousness. I feel for the police and security officers and the administrators at VT. I think they handled things pretty much as anyone would have done.

    I can imagine what you’re feeling. I never went to VT, but I have been sad – and occasionally almost tearful – during the past few days.

  4. Mary says:

    My thoughts and prayers to everyone at VA Tech, especially the families of the victims. My anger is at this country’s laws that allowed an alien, a non American, to purchase a weapon. I am completely baffled by the fact that no one seems to be upset about this situation. This young man may have been educated in this country but he was not an American citizen. One of his i.d.’s was his green card. UNBELIEVABLE!! Where else but in America. I love my country but enough is enough.
    I certainly agree with the Monday morning quarterback. I knew that was going to happen. People love to second guess others. God Bless.

  5. It was nice to chat with you about this today. I’m still surprised at how much this has affected me all these years after my time there. There is a general sadness about me that pops up in different ways at different times.

    Thanks for pointing out to people about the Collegiate Times reporting. They are doing a nice job and are not looking for ratings and hype.

  6. Helen says:

    Hi Stephanie. I was just cruising sites this evening for inclusion on my current resource page (which focuses on weblogs), but your insightful writing stopped me in my tracks and I read your entire post, and then read many of your other posts as well. Thank you for some of the most sensible writing I’ve found on this whole heartbreaking incident.

  7. Terri says:

    Hi Stephanie. I followed your link on BWHE to read this entry, thanks. Beyond the obvious sympathies for Va. Tech., I have 3 thoughts: first, I agree with all of your comments about opportunism, particularly for religious causes and the media; second, I nonetheless bristle a bit at the efforts to exclude people from the discussion as “outsiders,” I just don’t think that’s the right approach either, as many homeschoolers (like us) are not “joiners” and even though we eschew groups generally (even as alumni) we still have condolences to offer, so we’d like to be heard without feeling rebuffed or corrected by “insiders”; and third, as a lawyer with experience in mental health laws, I want to offer this: there are so many people “out there” who are mentally ill to some degree, and as long as they can function in society, there is nothing we can do about (or for) them, it’s a conundrum that many families face with loved ones who “fly just below the legal radar” with a mental illness, often (but not always) with very tragic results; tougher laws are not the solution, as this just further stigmatizes and infringes on the rights of the “functioning but ill but not dangerous” citizens who (believe it or not) are very numerous in every part of our society. Thanks for hearing me out.

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