The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Commentary April 20, 2007

Reflections on VTech Tragedy

On this day 118 years ago, an Austrian named Adolf was born; 110 years later, two disturbed teenagers opened fire on their classmates at Columbine High School; four days ago, another troubled student carried out the bloodiest school shooting in United States history.

Yet, for some, today is nothing more than a day of smoky celebrations. School is out for the weekend, TGIF is in full swing and there’s a counterculture holiday that many Obies observe diligently. But history  and Monday’s events at Virginia Tech have changed the way in which we can responsibily observe this date.

The more we learn about what happened, the more our questions trip over one another: Where do we go from here? Can we find solutions for this endemic violence? Should we work for stricter background checks for those buying guns? Fight to ban guns entirely? Censor violent video games, design and redesign evacuation plans and suspect all green-card-holders of harboring homocidal tendencies? Certainly, some of these questions are worth asking, but some reveal extremism as dangerous as the initial perpetrators’.

It is senseless to point fingers, dwell on hypothetical situations, or live in a world of “what ifs”  — What if my sister, friend, roommate had stayed home today? What if it happened here?

The latter inquiry calls into question Oberlin’s own ablity to alert students in an emergency situation. The barrage of e-mails informing us of the snow day in February might indicate an excusable overzealousness but also disorganiziation and poor communication between various offices and departments in the College. Oberlin should address its own emergency plan and consider how best to cope. This ought be done not in a spirit of panic, but as a sobering exercise in preparing for the worst while hoping for the best.

Instead of losing ourselves in helplessness and fear, let us ask what we can do. This is, after all, supposed to be what Oberlin is all about — not simply sitting in circles in North Quad talking about how someone should fix poverty, malaria in Africa or the levees in New Orleans, but working toward and becoming a part of concrete solutions.

Oberlin is not a place where learning is purely for the sake of learning or feeling is simply for the sake of feeling. Instead, Oberlin is a place that encourages us to take what we have learned and felt and apply them to effect change.

In the aftermath of tragedy, we often say that we will never forget what happened. The virtual nature of today’s age makes forgetting even harder,;  MySpace and Facebook profiles of Virginia Tech’s victims still linger on the Internet, reminding us of who and what we have lost. But it is not enough to “not forget.” We must reach together for “never again,” not by recalling what we could have done, but by imagining what we can do &shy;&shy;— and acting on it.


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