How Carnegie Mellon is keeping campus safe after VA Tech massacre
Wednesday night, students and faculty gathered by the Fence. In the midst of the cold and windy weather, 70 hands cupped 70 flickering flames as the Carnegie Mellon community mourned the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre.
Last Monday, 23-year-old Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho killed himself and 32 others in the deadliest shooting executed by a single person in United States history. The attacks occurred in a dormitory and an academic building, both located on the Virginia Tech campus.
The vigil by the Fence is only one example of the ways in which colleges and universities nationwide are coming together to honor those slain.
“Students totally took the lead on creating this opportunity to express themselves after the Virginia Tech shootings,” said Jonathan Kroll, housefellow for Morewood Gardens. “I think it definitely helps with the grieving process.”
The vigil began at 9 p.m. with a moment of silence. As the group grew in number, participants continued to light the candles of those who gathered along the periphery of the crowd.
Student Body President Karl Sjogren passed out lyrics to to “Lean on Me” and the group then joined in song. After that, students and faculty members, one of whom was an alumna of Virginia Tech, took turns speaking informally.
Two hours earlier, the Hillel Jewish University Center (JUC) of Pittsburgh hosted a vigil led by rabbi Jamie Gibson of Temple Sinai.
Gibson led those attending in song and prayer, and students read prayers as well. During the vigil, Gibson gave personal attention to each of the departed.
“We knew that we wanted to read the names of every single person whose name had been released,” said Sahar Oz, the JUC’s assistant director. “And we also wanted to say a few things about them.”
Students lit candles for each of the known victims: Liviu Librescu, a 76-year-old Holocaust survivor; Reema Samaha, an 18-year-old first-year; Kevin Granata, a biomechanics researcher and a leader in his field; and 26 others.
The group also lit three candles for the victims whose names had not yet been released.
Oz found Librescu’s death particularly troubling. Librescu, a professor at Virginia Tech, was shot while protecting his students by guarding the entrance to his classroom.
“He was murdered on Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is an occasion observed around the world,” Oz said. “It sent shock and a tremendous sense of loss to the Jewish community.”
The tragedy resonated in particular with several Carnegie Mellon students in the JUC who met Virginia Tech students last May while on a Birthright trip to Israel.
“One of the things we did immediately was try to reach the eight students who went on this trip from Virginia Tech,” Oz said. All eight were unharmed.
“We had that added element of emotional proximity,” Oz said.
The modern languages department is also making plans to reach out to Virginia Tech, in part because so many of the shootings took place in foreign-language classrooms.
“We feel closer,” said Sono Hayes-Takano, a Japanese professor.
“We’ve been brainstorming,” Hayes-Takano said. “People in MLSAC, [Modern Languages Student Advisory Committee], they’re thinking about raising money for [the victims’] memorial fund.”
Beyond the campus community, the Internet has helped many feel connected to the Virginia Tech victims.
“I think the Internet in this case has been a tremendous asset,” Oz said. “I think Facebook is a great example.”
Profiles of victims on Facebook, in addition to those on news sites such as CNN and BBC News, have helped humanize the tragedy.
“We don’t want these victims to become statistics,” Oz said. “Keep it personal.”
But with such accessibility, fear is often not too far behind.
“There is this sense of, ‘It could happen to me,’ ” Oz said.
Students feeling vulnerable might benefit from becoming familiar with Carnegie Mellon’s security policy.
“We have trained a certain number of people ... in every building,” said Madelyn Miller, director of Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) at the university.
RAs, building marshals, and other qualified individuals are among those who have received training, she said.
EH&S has had a system called AlertNow in place for the past couple of years. AlertNow enables EH&S to make 5000 phone calls in about a minute, which could help alert floor marshals of a campus emergency.
“Not everybody knows that we have these procedures in place,” Miller said.
In the past, EH&S’s procedures were kept online behind a firewall. The procedures were privatized because they included the cell phone numbers of various staff members, in addition to the locations of hazardous materials throughout campus.
After Virginia Tech, EH&S decided to make the procedures available to the public — without the information regarding cell phones or hazardous materials.
Carnegie Mellon’s urban campus is an asset in the event of an emergency, Miller said. The university is within close reach of city, county, and state police.
“I think it makes us safer,” she said.
Moreover, RAs are trained to recognize suspicious students, which could help prevent a future incident, Kroll said. Concern from other students is often cause for immediate action.
“Undoubtedly, we take that very seriously,” he said.