April 20, 2007
by Iva Lee
I am deeply saddened by the loss of the many students and faculty who were killed at Virginia Tech. And I’m sure that by this point people are emotionally exhausted by all of the talk and focus on the shooting over the past few weeks. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard discussions that reflect what’s been really bothering me about this situation—how it demonstrates the ways in which men’s violence against women continues to be a normalized, accessible way to claim power and control.
This morning I had to turn off NRP after their call-in show “Talk of the Nation” announced that they were going to be discussing the Virginia Tech shooting by asking “How do we profile killers like this?” “How can we recognize these kinds of individuals?” etc. I am disappointed by how quickly the conversation has shifted to needing to better profile “terrorists” and changing law enforcement’s authority to arrest people before they make an explicit threat. I kept waiting for the NPR staff to ask “What does it mean that this man had a history of stalking women?” “What are the implications of this man choosing a woman he knew as his first shooting victim? Of sending a letter to the media ranting against the women on his campus? Of making female classmates so uncomfortable that he was removed from class?" Instead, the conversation has focused on the shooter as someone who “just snapped.”
Cho Seung-Hui wrote a long letter to the media about feeling isolated, marginalized and victimized by his student community, including the women in that community. He felt powerless. He chose to claim and establish power through stalking women and, finally, through gun violence. He felt invisible. He sent photos of himself “armed and dangerous” to the media knowing that after this act of violence all eyes would be on him, everyone would know who he is, what he looked like, and he would finally be fully included in the nation’s psyche. I am very sorry that he had such a lifetime experience of painful loneliness, mental health struggles, lack of support, and overall disempowerment. And I am upset that he used that experience as a stepping stone to the easily available, highly socialized model of men using violence to claim power.
So while our campus community conversations have tended to focus on emergency management, I am more interested in looking at the ways in which we can strengthen our coordinated community response to violence against women. Instead of seeing this as situation in which someone “just snapped,” we could take the opportunity to ask what could have happened if the stalking complaints against him had resulted in serious, coordinated, ongoing interventions and services. Instead of talking about strengthening arrest laws, I hope we focus on the preventative work of education, interventions, accountability and changing the structures that tell men that they have the right, access, and authority to seek power and control through violence.