Following closely on the heels of sophomore Beth Spiedel’s death and the two-year anniversary of a tragic off-campus house fire, Miami University’s community is now confronted with what has been termed by Virginia Polytechnic Institute students as a “college Columbine.”
“We are all feeling enormous sadness and grief at the thought of what happened in Virginia,” said Miami University President David Hodge. “It’s overwhelming to know that 33 people died (Monday) and I think it causes fear for us as we live in this modern era, where it is hard to understand what would possess a person to do something like this. It’s a feeling of vulnerability.”
Friday, April 20, college campuses across the country will be joining together for an “Orange and Maroon Effect” Day, when all Americans are encouraged to wear Virginia Tech’s colors to show support.
“This tradition began in 2002 to encourage the wearing of school colors to sporting events,” said Kristen Lucia, a graduate student at Miami who received her bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech in 2004. “We had two games a year, one where you had to wear orange, and the other maroon.”
Lucia added that the shirts were sold for only $5, and the first year caused a national shortage in orange T-shirts because of the popularity. It became a tradition at the school as well as across the nation to show “Hokie pride.”
“I think we have two choices,” she said. “We can dress in black, mourn, and sink into the shadows. Or we can dress in bright orange and stand together. The actions of one person will not affect our unity.”
Lucia said that many people from Virginia Tech are worried about how Monday’s event will change the way others view their school.
“Everyone’s fear right now is that people will think VA Tech is unsafe, but there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent this,” Lucia said. “The first thing on our lips was, I want to be in Blacksburg not I want to get away from there but I want to be there with them.”
Miami students and faculty gathered together Tuesday night for a candlelight vigil honoring and remembering the students who were killed at Virginia Tech Monday.
“A college student is a college student no matter where you go to school,” said Stacey Brozio, a junior East Asian language and culture major who planned the event. “Whether we believe in something higher or not, we share a common belief in humanity at this vigil. We’re here in support for each other and for Virginia Tech.”
With more than 200 people in attendance, several students and faculty members shared thoughts, memories and wrote sympathy cards to families of the victims and the shaken community.
“My own personal loss was very great,” said sophomore Kristen Vliet, who lost a friend in the shooting. “There are just some things in life that don’t make sense. There’s no way we can look back at the victims of the fire and have it make sense. There’s no way we can look back at Beth (Speidel) and have it make sense. What does make sense is that we’re here grieving together.”
Both Wal-Mart and the Faith Lutheran Church and Campus Ministry donated candles, which were placed around the reflecting pool behind the Shriver Center at the conclusion of the vigil.
“The hardest part for me is when people forget,” said Paige Glattly, a first-year psychology major. “We need to remember the families. It changed the rest of their lives. They will remember this every minute of every day.”
President Hodge expressed his joy at seeing the Miami community gathering together and encouraged them to continue to talk through the grief.
“We as college students didn’t really have a voice when Columbine happened,” said junior Paul Morrow. “We didn’t have a platform to express our grief like we do here.”
Jane Lindsay, a first-year whose two friends live in West Ambler Johnston Hall at Virginia Tech, said talking about her feelings with those friends and with others is a way of showing support.
“Virginia Tech is so similar to Miami,” Lindsay said. “It’s not even a city, just a small town and a close community, like Blacksburg.”
Other students spoke on questioning their faith and having moments of utter disbelief that this would happen.
“You have a finite amount of time in life,” said Sarah Baumert, a senior accounting major. “You never get that time back and it’s wonderful of these students at Miami to give that time. The people that came out are saying you don’t have to talk, just know we’re here.”
Miami’s security assessment
Miami is one of many universities in America right now re-evaluating its security policy and procedures.
“I’ve gotten a number of e-mails from parents wanting to protect their kids,” Hodge said. “I feel the exact same way.”
Currently, the university’s security policy involves emergency phones in locations across campus, 24-hour patrol by Miami University Police, campus crime alerts via e-mail and use of the myMiami homepage. Hodge added that in an emergency the administration could utilize the Miami Metro system, radio frequencies and local TV. He encouraged students and faculty to read tips on what to do in an emergency, available on the MUPD Web site.
“Miami has been as prepared as we could for all situations,” Hodge said. “I don’t know that anything would have even made a difference at Virginia Tech. Two hours is really a short period of time. People don’t realize how much time it takes to put a campus on lockdown.”
According to Hodge, a new hotline number, similar to the lines available at Middletown and Hamilton campuses, was added Tuesday to relay emergency information. They are also looking into the possibility of text messaging campus alerts.
“We do have multiple layers of communication on campus that just depend on the situation,” said Richard Little, senior director of university communications. “E-mail can be very spotty in terms of reaching the whole community. It requires sending 25,000-30,000 e-mails and hoping people check them.”
Little mentioned the employment of phone trees to notify staff and students in the area of the campus phones who would, in turn, notify others. The method of text messaging would require all students to register their cell phones with the university and keep the information updated.
“Nothing is perfect,” Little said. “Nothing can reach a whole campus in an instant and we have to be careful not to spread panic. The question is not the means of communication, but making sure you have the right information.”
According to Miami’s Web site, MUPD members are trained to respond and handle different emergency situations.
“We have all kinds of training and drills,” Little said. “You sit down and imagine the unthinkable because someday that unthinkable could happen. I wish we could do something to make sure this never happens again but I also know that isn’t a reality.”
Miami’s Student Counseling Service posted a link on its Web site Wednesday offering suggestions and information on coping with the Virginia Tech tragedy.
“Grief affects us in several different ways,” said Kip Alishio, director of the Student Counseling Service. “It breaks through the normal setting and makes us feel vulnerable. A vast majority of people will get what they are needing from significant others, the natural resources in their lives. You should seek professional resources when those natural resources are non-existent.”
Alishio added that Miami does have procedures for faculty to report concerns about a student.
“We do get consultation requests from faculty who have students who have submitted disturbing works or were acting in a suspicious way,” he said. “We decide how to approach or inte
rvene if we find it necessary. A student may go through a mandatory psychological screening to determine if they are a risk to themselves or others.”
The Web site, sponsored by the American Psychological Association, suggests talking about feelings, taking frequent breaks and helping others do something productive.