Virginia Tech tragedy unites VU community


Virginia Tech tragedy unites VU community


by Joan Brasher

News of the events of April 16, 2007 - a violent shooting on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va., that resulted in the deaths of 33 students and faculty members - sent chills down the spines of all within earshot of a television, radio or the Internet.

University students, faculty and staff across the nation and the world watched the media coverage in stunned silence, as the death toll escalated and the convoluted details slowly became clear.

For many students, the first reaction to the shocking event was fear, said Vanderbilt Student Government Association President Cara Bilotta, a junior.

"As you watch the tragedy unfold on TV, you cannot help but think, 'Could this happen here?'" Bilotta said.

"Your initial reaction is fear of the unknown. The question is, could any university really prevent an incident like Virginia Tech? The good news is that Vanderbilt has always taken a proactive approach to security."

University communities nationwide, even those with no direct relationship to the victims, were hard hit, and campus administrators quickly convened not only to reach out to Virginia Tech's faculty, staff and students, but to re-evaluate crisis preparedness on their respective campuses.

Chancellor Gordon Gee communicated with the Vanderbilt community via e-mail shortly after the shooting, stating, "Words fail to encompass a calamity of such magnitude. At this raw stage, we can offer our attention, our consideration and our sympathy. We respond with the best part of ourselves."

He encouraged students to take advantage of the university's psychological counseling services, seek out religious life groups or turn to resident advisers for support. All Faiths Chapel on the first floor of Vanderbilt Divinity School was made available for reflection, meditation and prayer.

Two days after the shooting, a candlelight vigil was held at Benton Chapel. Vanderbilt chaplains, as well as representatives from Tennessee State University, Belmont University, Lipscomb University and Fisk University, conducted the service sponsored by the Middle Tennessee Chapter of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association. Mourners gathered to seek comfort and memorialize loved ones lost. Vanderbilt students who knew victims of the shooting also shared their stories and remembrances.

For Joshua Parlaman, a Virginia Tech alumnus who works as a research assistant at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development, it was too soon to attend a memorial service. Instead, to assuage his grief he reached out to former classmates and family members. Having the support of his Vanderbilt colleagues was invaluable, he said.
"Being at Vanderbilt at this time has been both comforting and humbling," Parlaman said. "The solidarity expressed by Vanderbilt students, faculty and staff has really moved me. I realize how deeply this has affected us all, uniting everyone with those at Virginia Tech."

As Vanderbilt students, their parents, faculty and staff raised questions of security, Vanderbilt's administration quickly responded with explanations of the existing measures in place. Campus safety officials compiled and distributed a fact sheet that addressed concerns, such as identifying students with potential behavior problems, and included information on safety, law enforcement and emergency communications.

On April 20, a free emergency alert text-messaging service was set up for students, faculty and staff, made available through Vanderbilt's existing text-messaging service, MobileVU.

"The recent tragedy at Virginia Tech has highlighted the importance of rapid and accurate communications during emergency situations, and particularly the value of cell phone text messaging to relay important information," said Michael Schoenfeld, vice chancellor for public affairs. "With 330 acres, 233 buildings and as many as 40,000 people on campus during a busy work day, reaching every individual presents a challenge. Emergency text messaging ... is an important addition to the existing communications channels."

At noon on April 23, a week after the incident, a moment of silence was observed on Vanderbilt's campus as the bells at Kirkland Hall tolled 32 times, once for each person slain by gunman Seung-hui Cho. Students, dressed in Virginia Tech's school colors of maroon and orange, congregated at the Sarratt Promenade, where representatives of Vanderbilt's student government distributed commemorative ribbons, while students, faculty and staff wrote words of encouragement in a leather-bound book emblazoned with the Vanderbilt seal, a gift for the Virginia Tech student government. A banner hanging behind the signing table read, "Today we are all Hokies."

"There were those who had friends (at Virginia Tech), or friends of friends there, and because of how connected we are through the university community, people wanted to reach out," Bilotta said. "Some students simply signed their name, others wrote detailed messages, saying 'I knew someone there, I feel for you.' I think that was a great way to help students heal and begin the recovery process."

"Fortunately, I did not know anyone killed or injured on April 16," Parlaman said. "This tragedy does, however, take a personal toll. Virginia Tech and Blacksburg were my home for four years. ... I feel a sense of sorrow knowing that what was my safe haven is now forever scarred with the memory of these horrific events."

Though the recovery process will take time, Bilotta said she feels hopeful about what is to come.

"I think Virginia Tech is starting to move forward," she said. "We are grieving, but we are moving forward to get beyond this awful tragedy and hope for a more peaceful future."


Original Source: <a href=>Vanderbilt University Daily Register - April 17, 2007


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Joan Brasher, “Virginia Tech tragedy unites VU community,” The April 16 Archive, accessed September 26, 2022,