After the horrific massacre on Virginia Tech’s campus on Monday, April 16, questions and concerns have become inevitable on college campuses across the country. Not only for students who play the ‘what-if’ game, relating themselves to the fear those students felt, but it is truly “a university administrator’s nightmare,” said Stephen Joel Trachtenberg in an editorial which appeared in the Washington Post on April 19. West Chester University administration and faculty have already begun to analyze the current crisis procedures, along with making changes to handle potentially dangerous situations and attempt to answer the ever pressing questions for themselves that haunt Virginia Tech’s administration now. One of the most pressing questions was “Why did it take so long for an alert to go out to all students about the 7:15 a.m. campus murders?”
WCU has several current and potential plans to get an emergency message out to students.
“We could get [the message] out on a very timely manner,” said Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety, Michael D. Bicking. In the winter months, students are very familiar with checking the University’s homepage for emergency weather alerts, like snow days, but the administration suggests that students keep a habit of checking it, along with their school email accounts.
“We have a combination of procedures to alert students,” said Pam Sheridan, director of public relations and marketing. “We have an email system in place, our homepage has mobile P.D.A’s (personal digital assistants) where students can type in a cell phone number and thus will bring up any information that the university puts out.”
Since a large percentage of WCU students are commuters, including off-campus students, they are looking into different ways of contacting students. Along with many other schools, WCU is considering text message alerts, along with identifying whether WCU has the capability for a loud speaker system.
“We also have two mobile electronic L.E.D. signs which can be strategically placed to contact commuter students coming onto campus,” said Bicking. “There are other ways of communication and alerts that we could implement if the need arrives.”
But still, Virginia Tech’s biggest critics are wondering what caused the heed in decision making on whether to “lock down” the campus, while they were debating what would be a practical message without causing mass hysteria.
“No one wants to take severe action when it could turn out that the news was inaccurate. No one wants to cry wolf and cause panic, which can unleash its own devils,” stated Trachtenburg in his Post editorial. “This means a deliberative pause is inevitable – and to think otherwise is na’ve and unjust.”
“We have an emergency operations center which brings all essential contacts to one place,” said Bicking.
“It’s not always running, but can be immediately if a situation occurs.” This center also provides a separate room for President Adler and her cabinet, where all communication at her office is also at the emergency operations center. The University has used this center in the past for a major storm. It is also recognized by the Chester County Emergency Management System.
At Towson University in Maryland, the University Police and the Office of the President publish an Emergency Resources Guide that offers recommended procedures for responding to certain emergencies.
WCU’s student handbook spells out general information about emergencies and has a list of emergency personnel and numbers.
“Any information about an emergency operation that is made public, can be used against you,” said Bicking. “Police officers for WCU are trained for an active shooter.”
WCU police have highly-specialized training, while the part- and full-time security officers are trained in CPR, first-aid and A.E.D.-use.
Besides security and emergency alerts, many journalists persisted to ask Virginia Tech representatives why the administrators hadn’t taken any action against Cho who they perceived as a ‘troubled individual,’ based on his creative writings and past offenses, such as stalking charges and a stint in a mental health hospital.
“WCU has many mechanisms allowing us to intervene,” said Vice President of Student Affairs Matthew Bricketto. The Ram’s Eye View Student Handbook lists several points in the Code of Conduct which draws to “University disciplinary proceedings that may be instituted against a student charged with violating laws or ordinances.”
This terrifying case at Virginia Tech draws to our own standards of conduct which specifically states procedures taken against students who participate in harassment of others and acts of intolerance and intimidation.
In cases brought to the administration’s attention, there is a process in which interim disciplinary suspension can be enforced upon any student or organization that constitutes a threat to the health, safety and welfare of the University.
Although these processes and procedures are in place, they cannot necessarily take immediate action based on opinions voiced by any members of the campus.
“We need hard evidence to breach the confidentiality – not just a conversation,” said Assistant Dean of Students and Health Center Director Mary Ann Hammond. “If a student has an identified intent and plan to act on suicide, we have a crisis intervention which leads to an involuntary commitment to mental health services.”
“I have no problem calling in a student,” said Hammond in reference to anyone’s stated concern about a student. “I’ve had police to go a student’s home and pick them up.”
WCU administration also encourages the strength in parent-student communication. By federal laws including the Family Educational Right to Privacy Act (Buckley Amendment) which requires all colleges and universities to keep education records private. Virginia Tech refers to this amendment in the case of Cho, where they weren’t able to divulge his offenses to his parents prior to and after April 16, 2007.