Tech breakdown

There are a lot of angles to cover in the Virginia Tech story. There's the grief, the empathy, the fear for my kid in a world where this happens, the gun control issue. There's the horror of the cell phone videos floating around the internet, in which kids filmed people running and screaming for their lives. There's the fact that I couldn't sleep last night because I kept imagining how it might have been to sit in a classroom and wait to die while you watched the other students get shot.

What's really getting me, though, is the uproar about the "lack of communication and warning." Students and others are upset because they think that the university dropped the ball, and that they didn't warn people in time for evacuation.

I understand that grief is an ugly and irrational emotion, and that people feeling grief need someone to blame. In July, I blamed God; in October, I blamed doctors who didn't catch a blood clot they wouldn't have looked for anyway. You have to have a target for the finger-pointing, or the inability to point will kill you from the inside.

I'm watching web feeds of the Today Show (WHY? Why can't I just stop watching this show, because it makes me angry every single time I see it) and Matt Lauer is verbally smacking the president for that "communication breakdown," and questioning him mercilessly about the email that went out after the dorm shooting. The president is fighting to explain that they first thought it was a murder-suicide, that they needed time to investigate, that if they had immediately locked down the dorm, they might have locked the shooter inside with 800 other kids in their rooms. In his way, I'm sure Matt Lauer is looking for his own scapegoat (I'm going to skip the rant about the shit-stirring, muckraking media, even though in some way I'm sure it applies) and he hurts as much as the rest of us.

But goddamn, Matt, leave that poor man alone.

I worked at two very different universities, in various levels of their respective hierarchies, and I can tell you without a doubt that they had one thing in common: they geniunely gave a damn about their schools, and the students and faculty and staff inside them. Whatever students and alumni might think about their moneygrubbing, their sharklike drive to be first in fundraising, participation, whatever, their first and main goal was to enrich life for the students - the people in general - who walked through their gates. No president would have deliberately or otherwise allowed a breakdown like the one that people are alleging occurred at VT. If there had been a way to protect the VT community, IT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED.

I don't believe that this is "another Columbine," like everyone is saying. Columbine was a high school, where two boys with two very horrific mentalities did something awful. This shooter was not another Dylan or Eric - yes, he was young, and yes, he was obviously mentally disturbed in some way, but there is a world of difference between 16 and 19 or 20. This, in my opinion, is another 9/11. The first plane hit the tower and everyone looked up and said, "What the hell was that?" No one knew to leave the second building because no one knew what happened to the first one. At VT, no one knew to evacuate or lockdown because no one knew what happened in the first place. And we didn't blame the management company of the Twin Towers when the second one fell - just as we shouldn't blame the administration at VT for not knowing, just as I shouldn't have blamed the doctors who didn't find the clot that killed my grandmother. Who would have looked for those things? Who would have known anything other than the rest of us?

To the Tech community, I say that my heart and my mind are with you today. I think about what happened and it gives me goosebumps, and I can't imagine being part of something as monumental as that. But place your blame on the guy with the gun, and believe in a president and a school that wanted the best for you. I'm sure the shooter had some issues, and I'm sure as time goes on that we'll discover an abused childhood or an inability to adapt to college life or whatever. But he held the gun and he did the shooting, and we all had to look around and say, "What the hell was that?" Blame him, and grieve with your school and its administration - whatever trouble you had with the registrar, however much the food sucks, however many annual fund solicitations you get in a year, grieve together. They're as broken as you are.

To Matt Lauer, I say only this: let the president grieve too. His school suffered a loss, and as such, so did he. Yes, he gets paid a huge salary, yes he gets to wear nice suits and drive a shiny car, but he could do that at Smith Barney or Disney or Dell, too. He chose that school and he loved it, and his heart broke yesterday, too.


  1. First of all, LOVE the new design, esp. the banner because your child is gorgeous. Second, there is no conspiracy made by me. Or this there? Mwah-ha! Third, I'm with you on the VT thing. If the president had sent out an email saying that there is a shooter on campus, there would have been chaos and he would have gotten blamed for that, too.

  2. Annie, this is a great post.

  3. I totally, totally agree with you. The same aspect of "communication breakdown" was discussed on NPR this morning, too, and the "communications expert" guy said essentially the same thing: that there was NO WAY OF KNOWING if it was an isolated incident, and even if it wasn't, there's NO WAY OF KNOWING what might happen next or what the best plan of action would be.

    If this had happened at Goucher...I can't even begin to imagine the scenario or what might occur.

    And also, I love your redesign.