It’s awful what happened, let’s just say that up front, lest you think I’m completely heartless. I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose someone like that, in the middle of their lives, for absolutely no reason, for preventable circumstances, in such an insane, violent manner.
After the shooting, a co-worker came up to me and said that she thought the actions resulted from an individual who was pushed to the breaking point of an environment filled with the haves and the have-nots, someone dealing with being a minority. She had gone to Vassar for one semester — and the class, values, and ethnic differences were more than she wanted to bear — so she transferred and flourished at a NYC institution.
I don’t know that I completely buy that explanation — class stress and misfit status contributed shaping this kid, for sure, but from everything he’s quoted as saying? He was just clearly nuts. Anyone saying that they have an imaginary supermodel girlfriend named Jelly from the planet Neptune is suffering from — I don’t know, I’m not a psychiatrist — but how about schizophrenia? Delusion? Narcissism? He was just plain crazy. Lots of kids contend with being a misfit in a severe way — being the only middle class among the wealthy, being the only non-Christian and Christian world, or non-white in a white campus, and they do not flip out and shoot 30 some-odd people. So that rationale alone does not make sense to me, and yet…
Another friend told me that she feels those social/financial circumstances are not enough to compel a student to behave that way, that we all have certain challenges to overcome, and that your attitude and perspective dictates how you survive and handle such stress — and we both kind of got annoyed by each other in the moment. Maybe she was annoyed with me b/c I wasn’t getting what she was saying, and I was getting annoyed b/c I didn’t feel like she was giving sufficient recognition to how much these kinds of circumstances can break you. You might be a confident kid with a healthy set of adaptability tools, but I also think some kids are subject to such intense racism or classism or what-have-you that breaks their spirit and they never fully recover. I think it’s much harder for a nonwhite boy than a nonwhite girl to fit in into mainstream American society. I think kids sense weakness/insecurity and attack like like wolves on the lone sick moose member. I’m lucky — whatever racism, etc. that has crossed my path has not been so overwhelming that I haven’t been able to recuperate, but I still remember freshman year, taking an Asian American lit class — there were kids who grew up in North Dakota and other parts of the country where they were a minority living in communities that were not all that educated and enlightened, and the barrage of prejudice was so relentless and cruel that the result is that they just plain out hate white people. Racism can drive people crazy, and though ultimately, that’s not why I think this kid went ballistic at Virginia Tech, aspects of his personal story make me think about this.
At the same time, I have a handful of Asian American friends who identify with the shooter, feeling the pain of his social ostracization due to his race. And I’m just like dude, he was crazy. I know you went through racism but you could not shoot 30 people and feel detached from that! That kid was totally CRAZY.
I hope this incentivizes people to pay attention to people who are clearly in trouble. There were signs this kid was mental, people seemed to sense it — his very presence disturbed other students to the point where they dropped out of class. It makes me think of every kid I’ve ever observed who fits this bill. When I toured with a feminist theater group, one kid in Iowa threatened to kill us. There was one kid I went to high school with who never talked and was caught punching his locker. In college, there was one freshman football recruit who didn’t seem to have the same regard for fellow students the way the rest of did — he threw a tray of food at the cafeteria employees, he actually went to the bathroom in a sink when two stalls on his floor was occupied (sorry to be gross, but it just demonstrated how whack he was), never mind the freshman who walked around in a hairshirt and no shoes during the winter semester.
I guess it’s hard to imagine someone like that will ever snap, you kind of expect them to stay in their own quirky bubble or something. They don’t become this way over night, and though it’s easier to assume someone else will deal with their problem, it’s not okay to let this go, especially on a school campus where there are presumably safety nets, to observe a kid who has no friends, who talks to themselves, who is clearly unstable. I don’t want this kind of violence to ever erupt again, but I’m worried that we’re in for more freakouts. And I hope when I encounter someone like this again that I try to get them help. Who knows. I hope I do.