Views from Southwest Virginia

Joan K

Joan K
Southwest, Virginia, USA
I'm a retired professor from Virginia Tech living the good life in the Appalachian mountains with my husband, a dog, and two cats along with lots of wildlife. I love reading, commenting and posting on Open Salon. Long live OS!


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MAY 11, 2009 4:50PM

Virginia Tech Massacre Book Best Seller

Rate: 8 Flag

No Right to Remain Silent

While waiting to check out at the local Kroger in Blacksburg, Virginia last week, I noticed that Lucinda Roy's book No Right to Remain Silent: The Tragedy at Virginia Tech was on their bestseller list.   The book is also prominently displayed at the Virginia Tech Volume II Bookstore as well as the Barnes and Noble in the nearby shopping center.  

Roy's book, published a couple of weeks before the recent second anniversary, was widely anticipated by the university community.   She was the English Department Chair and Professor seen being interviewed soon after the massacre.  She had tutored Seung-Hui Cho, the mass murderer, after he had to be removed from a class due to his disturbing writing and behavior.   The fact that the class was taught by the English professor and well-known poet, Nikki Giovanni (who recited her poem at the memorial service attended by President Bush)  added to the media's interest in the story.

At the time, few faculty members were talking to the press.    They were instructed not to do by the administration.     Did Roy talk to the press to protect herself?  Perhaps, because we learn in the book that she hired a lawyer within a couple of days after the massacre to represent her with the police and administration.   At any rate, the book's title and some of the book is an attempt to justify her speaking out.   

 Roy states up front that all profits from the book go to families in Sierra Leone, a place where she taught years ago.  Further, she dedicates her book to"teachers and students everywhere that they may learn together in peace."    There is no doubt that Roy's intentions are good.   She hopes that her book will promote a dialogue about how to reduce violence in schools.  

Guns and Campus Security

Roy raises some important questions about whether security has improved in schools and colleges.  In particular, I found the discussion on Virginia's failure to require background checks on gun purchases  at gun shows relevant. 

Students are required to leave guns with the police on campus.  Yet, the fact that Cho could buy multiple weapons at a local gunshop with the Virginia Tech police not knowing about it  seems ludicrous to me.  That has not changed in Virginia.

She notes the many new safety measures on campus--lockable classrooms, cell phone alerts, electronic bulletin boards, as well as exterior doors taht cannot be chained as Cho did.    Also, campuses everywhere lock down quickly when danger of violence lurks.   However, Roy asks whether these measures are giving a false sense of security.  Are campuses really safer today than before April 16, 2007? 

The Crucial Question of Mental Illness

The most important questions about the mental health of students have not been addressed according to the author.  Roy relates her frustration in dealing with Cho, a student who repeatedly was found to be suicidal and threatenting by students  and faculty.   The police and administration were not helpful, basically saying they were powerless to remove Cho.    

Roy writes about this untenable situation in early chapters in excruciating detail.  You feel her pain, especially in the days immediately following the massacre when she had fears that a second gunman could have been involved and might still be a threat on campus. 

Important details about Cho's past were not known  to her, his diagnosed depression and selective mutism in high school for instance.  Had she known she speculated she might have been able to help him cope or at least understand his problems.    The lack of communication between mental health agencies, schools, and teachers still exists. 

Roy's book, while primarily a memoir, raises important questions about the role of teachers and the administration in combating school violence.   I hope her book becomes more widely read so  that a national discussion on school violence begins.   


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Thanks for the heads up, Joan K ~ I think I'd like to read that.
Yes. I will read this book too Joan. It has a lot to stand up to in terms of Dave's meticulous research, but she has a different perspective as a survivor and someone close to the killer.
1_Irritated_Mother--thanks for the quick comment. Hope you do read it--it was hard for me but think she raises some good questions.

Kind of Blue--yes, this is a different book, part memoir, part essay on school violence. As you say, as a survivor, Roy has an important voice.
She certainly has a unique perspective and I am interested to hear what she has to say.

I tend to think that humans in general are so eager to embrace a feeling of security, we crave it and will give up a lot (like our basic human rights) if we think this will give it to us. Even when logic tells us that almost all feelings of security are mere facades. An opiate to encourage us to carry on with our daily lives, to not be paralyzed by fear.

I've been flying since I was 6 months old and I'm old enough to remember when there were no metal detectors or xray machines in airports. Then we had all the hijackings and in the 70s and viola, the "security" devices. The Pan Am Lockerbie bombing shattered that sense of security and then the coup de grace was the low tech, high concept 911 disasters. Oh, and throw Richard Reed in there too. The point is that security is an illusion.

Unless we all want to live in a padded room/police state the only way to mitigate this sort of danger committed by men against man is to identify these individuals as early as possible and divert them from their path.

I am not advocating a relaxation of gun control laws (more not less), nor a lessening of air travel security but I am firmly in the camp that these measures can only do so much. We must become more vigilant identifying individuals who pose a threat and this must be considered are primary defense. It is like a ship. A captain has a toolbox of things called "aids to navigation." These include things like a compass, radar, binoculars, charts, a gps, a log, a sextant, a chronograph etc... These are all AIDs to navigation. They are not the navigator, the captain is the navigator, he uses the tools but the navigator, with his eyes, ears, even sense of smell is what truly guides the ship. He knows that anyone one of his tools could break or be wrong he has to judge their readings analyze the information and set the course of his ship. So it is with security.

Remember that fellow at the check in gate in Maine. Even though the passenger had all of his documents in order and looked perfectly well groomed etc... the agent sensed something was not right. He did not follow his instinct. That passenger was Muhammed Atta.

I remember flying into Gatwick airport in the mid-90s and after I deplaned and had fetched my luggage I was rather perplexed as there was no signage directing me to Customs and Immigration. I looked about and found someone official looking and asked for advice. I was told that if Customs and Immigration wanted to see me they would have tapped me on the shoulder.

So yes, I will read this book (hope my local library will have it soon) because I believe the implications of Dave Cullen's book and this one are much more far reaching than simply violence on school campuses. I think it is reflective of the world at large with no small implications on the culture of terrorism in the global community.
It sounds like a good book, and I'll look for it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I enjoyed Ablonde's comments and agree for the most part, but ever since the DC sniper, I've come to accept the fact that you may be vacuuming your car, shopping at Lane Bryant, going to a school assembly or for a walk in the woods and that may be the last thing you know before you're shot. It's like accepting that when you drive your car you're taking your life in your hands. There have just been too many of these random incidents and nothing ever changes afterwards. Guns equal money, and that's what has been making policy in this country for a very long time.
Ablonde--your reactions are similar to mine. I do remember all the hijackings in the 70s. And, I agree we need to try to stop individuals before they commit their crimes by intervention. That seemed to be the major point of Roy's book. Security can only do so much as you say.

Thanks for the lengthy discussion--we can learn a lot from the past.
latethink--Yes, when you think about it, you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get shot. That's what made the shootings in Northern Virginia so scary--you could be anywhere. I actually was up there that weekend for a conference. I stopped at a gas station and a lady mentioned it but I didn't pay it any attention. I finally heard the details on the radio as I was driving back to southwest Virginia. That was scary.
I think that's the thing that frightens folks most--the sense of randomness, that it could happen anywhere. It's what drives some folks to think that if they have a gun strapped to their body at all time, they can prevent another massacre from happening. I don't believe that, but I do understand the folks who do.
Jo Anne Beard has a brilliant essay in her book, THE BOYS OF MY YOUTH about the Iowa university killings. Her advisor was shot to death by a grad student with mental issues. Her writing about it is so amazing. I've read the essay a few times to figure out how she manages to convey the emotion without completely devolving into pathos.
Anyway. Thanks for the review. I'll keep an eye out for this book.
fingerlakeswanderer--thanks for the tip of Beard's essay in her book. I will check it out. Lucinda Roy also is an excellent writer who conveys the horror of the VT massacre without sinking into sensationalism or pathos.