A student comes on campus with a gun and starts shooting and killing.
It’s a scenario that seems impossible for CLU, but according to assistant director of Graduate Psychology Jamie Baker, that kind of complacency can lead to tragedy.
Baker was at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University during the shootings on April 16, 2007.
“We don’t often talk about violence until something happens,” Baker said. “But really what we need to be doing is talking about it.”
She went over strategies to prevent campus violence in her presentation Campus Violence: Remembrance, Awareness and Response in the Samuelson Chapel on April 18, which she presented two days after the anniversary of the slayings at Virginia Tech and two days before the anniversary of the April 20, 1999 massacre at Columbine.
She also pointed out that, for whatever reason, the month of April has more anniversaries for school shootings than any other month in the year.
Baker started the presentation by acknowledging the reasons someone might commit campus violence can be both external and internal.
External influences can be violent movies or video games that can lead to a desensitized view on violence.
To illustrate this Baker showed a clip from the video game “School Shooter: North American Tour 2012” set to the song “Bodies” by Drowning Pool.
Developed by Checkerboard Studios as a modification to the computer game “Half Life 2,” the game allows players to kill each other using the same weapons and in the same environments as the Columbine or Virginia Tech shootings.
Moving on to the internal influences and referencing research conducted on the perpetrators of campus violence, Baker listed stress, substance abuse, conflict in a person’s life and a previous history of violence as common factors.
This can lead to common warning signs that can be spotted in a student, such as decline in physical appearance, overly aggressive behavior and producing disturbing work such as art or poetry.
Baker said there is a myth that time will sort out these problems.
“In this case, time is our enemy,” Baker said. “The longer that we wait in the case of violence, the more at risk we are.”
She says following up on these warning signs and reporting them to people qualified to evaluate a potential risk, such as the counseling department, is absolutely vital.
“We all have some responsibility in keeping our campus safe on all sorts of levels, and part of that is just watching for signs and symptoms,” Baker said.
It was at this point that she recounted her own experiences during the Virginia Tech massacre when student Seung-Hui Cho took 32 lives.
That morning, Baker was in her office in the dean’s building, which she described as a windowless closet.
She was meeting with a few students when they heard a rumor that a shooting had happened somewhere on campus.
Unable to verify this rumor or get any more information, Baker and the students continued their business as usual.
Since her office was in the dean’s building, they were able to get information much quicker than other parts of the college and soon found the rumor to be true.
Baker, some students and other faculty in the building hid in a cement room with file cabinets blocking the door for safety.
Tension mounted as time passed. There was no way to tell where the shooter was or even if he was still on campus.
Eventually the group made a decision for everyone to run to the people’s cars that were closest to the building.
After an hour and a half, they made a run for it.
Baker later learned that Cho had been a few buildings over from them.
Director of Campus Public Safety Fred Miller gave his perspective on these kinds of threats and how college campuses are even main targets for terrorism.
He was also disturbed to hear school shootings are on the rise in the United States and parts of Europe.
“It’s almost becoming an epidemic,” Miller said.
Robert Beilin, the director of the California Lutheran University Oxnard MFT program, was moved by the presentation.
“It’s chilling, and it’s really important, I think, that as many people on campus are aware of the possible danger and also the importance of making students feel included and heard,” Beilin said.
Published May 4, 2011