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.