Virginia Tech in retrospect


Two years ago today I woke up and walked to my Monday morning class, introduction to macroeconomics, and on the way I was informed by a friend about a tragic situation. In my economics seminar we did not discuss fiscal or monetary policy, not even inflation or unemployment, instead we discussed the unwinding events occurring at a school a few hours south of mine, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, more commonly known as Virginia Tech. Amongst the students and professor, various topics were thrown around from a need for increased security on college campuses to calls for strict gun control, but the connection that most students made in the discussion was to a similar event that happened on our own campus four months earlier.

On Wednesday December 6 2006 a fleeing criminal fired shots on police officers in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and upon escaping from the police he entered the campus of Villanova University to hide. This happened around 3:15 in the morning, and by 4 the entire campus was under lockdown. As students tried to leave their residence halls for early morning classes they were sent back to their rooms by Resident Assistants. By 10:20 AM the university was cleared and classes went on as scheduled. No one was harmed at the university because swift action was taken in response to a threat.

Although the circumstances surrounding both situations were vastly different, it made me realise that it is quite difficult to predict or fully prevent events such as these from happening. What matters more is how people respond to the situations when they do happen. Fortunately, my university was competent enough to respond to the matter in an effective way. Under similar pressure, Virginia Tech was unable to respond to the first shootings that morning as effectively, failing to prevent 30 additional murders. 

Consequently, because terrorist events happen does that mean students want metal detectors at every university door, security cameras staring down their neck as they walk out of class, or administrators reading their e-mails and message conversations to ensure their safety from attacks? I assure you most students would not desire these measures to be taken. I feel much sorrow for the students who were murdered in the Virginia Tech tragedy, but I do not believe any of the above precautions would have prevented the attack. More likely, those measures would be used to arrest intoxicated students, fine them for dropping trash, invade their privacy, and keep them from getting to class on time.

Following the Virginia Tech incident, my university responded by providing a voluntary service that sends text messages to students’ mobile phones with instructions during emergencies. Since setting up the service, one more shooting occurred near our campus by an outsider, but students were immediately informed [via text] of the location and nothing was harmed, not even our personal liberties.