Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 16
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
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Virginia Tech Shooting Raises Campus Awareness Throughout the Country

Matthew Hersh

The shooting that killed 33 people including the gunman Monday on the Virginia Polytechnic Institute campus has left the entire country in mourning, while again raising awareness about the vulnerability of college campuses.

Identified Tuesday as Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old Virginia Tech senior studying English, the shooter had access to the dormitory where he first struck, as well as to the classroom building where he ultimately took his own life after he methodically claiming 30 more victims for as-yet-unknown motives. The incident has caused alarm throughout the country, as area colleges and universities react to Monday's events.

"Though we do not yet know what prompted this heinous attack or exactly how it transpired, it gives all of us in higher education a moment of pause," said The College of New Jersey President Barbara Gitenstein in a statement published on the school's Web site. "Once the facts are known, we will be better able to assess the implications of this tragedy and what lessons might be learned."

"We find it almost impossible to fathom how the Virginia Tech community is coping with its losses," said Rider University President Mordechai Rozanski in a similar statement.

But college campuses have already been faced with the daily challenge of maintaining a secure residential and academic environment, and campus police forces will likely learn from this incident, thinking about campus security in a "layered approach," according to Chief Steven J. Healy, director of Public Safety at Princeton University.

"The immediate response would be to cordon off the area or building if there were an active shooter," he said Tuesday. "That way we're able to detain the shooter or suspect," neutralizing the threat immediately, Chief Healy said.

"When a person is actively engaged in bringing about death and destruction, the first thing we have to do is neutralize the situation," he said, adding that he would then coordinate with local, county, and federal law enforcement agencies.

Chief Healy, who last July was elected as president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA), said that since most college campuses are more or less porous, campus law enforcement agencies have to rely on high levels of training, visibility, as well as a vigilant student body, staff, and faculty.

"It's important to engage the community so they feel comfortable and confident to call us if anyone sees something that they are uncomfortable with in a given situation," he said.

While the campus, in general, is an open environment ("which is absolutely necessary," Chief Healy said), additional levels of security are provided for residential halls and some academic buildings.

But with students who have access to those areas, the level of response changes. Once a person becomes hostile, engaged in bringing about destruction, or even death, on campus, security has to move swiftly, Chief Healy said. In the Virginia Tech case, while it was "unfortunate" that the killer was a member of the student community, the protocol in dealing with a hostile subject would have been the same to smother the situation and "save lives," he said, but added that colleges and universities should have a safeguard in place that sets off red lights about people who might suffer from psychological disorders or who exhibit signs of potentially violent behavior.

Princeton University students, as is the case on other campuses, are encouraged to contact the school's Counseling and Psychological Department to both cope with a campus incident and report possible warning signs exhibited by another student or member of the school's faculty or staff.

"This was just a tragic, tragic event, and the more that can be done to prevent it, the better," Chief Healy said.


Princeton University was scheduled to host a gathering in remembrance of the lives lost at Virginia Tech at Richardson Auditorium at Alexander Hall Tuesday night after Town Topics went to press.

"The news of these terrible events has filled all of us with sorrow and heartbreak, and the Princeton community extends its deepest sympathies to our peers and colleagues at Virginia Tech," said University Provost Christopher Eisgruber in a statement. The event was coordinated by the Undergraduate Student Government, class governments, the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students and the Office of Religious Life.

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