“Shock, anger, awe, vulnerability”: These are just a few of the emotions Yalies have experienced in the aftermath of Monday’s shootings at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, University Chaplain Frederick Streets said at a vigil Wednesday night.
About 80 members of the Yale community gathered in Battell Chapel on Wednesday night to pay their respects to the victims and survivors of the deadliest shooting rampage in American history. On Monday, a Virginia Tech senior, Cho Seung-Hui, shot and killed 32 professors and students before taking his own life. In the days following the incident, Yale students have sought ways to reach out to the Virginia Tech community and have approached administrators with questions about Yale’s ability to respond to a similar event.
Streets, who opened the Battell service with a short address, said having a vigil where students can come together and share their thoughts is crucial after a tragedy that elicits such a variety of responses from students. Relationships with family and friends become particularly important during a time of crisis, Streets said, and he hopes the Yale community, which is “shaped by our residential college and other experiences,” helps students feel safe as they react to the shootings.
“Gatherings such as vigils help us to remember those who have died and those who loved them, helps us to cope with such loss and to think of ways to improve upon our strengths as a community and ways of reaching out to the families and other members of the Virginia Tech community,” Streets said.
Although grieving has been a very personal process for many students, some Yalies have been proactive in responding to the tragedy. Severin Knudsen ’09 organized a vigil on Old Campus on Tuesday night before he knew an official one would be held by the Chaplain’s Office. He said he decided to hold the event, which was attended by about 40 students, because he wanted to bring students’ attention to what happened at Virginia Tech — especially because a similar event could have happened at Yale, where he said students are often highly stressed.
Knudsen said the mood among students has been mostly sad and reflective but that some are scared that a massacre of this magnitude could happen at Yale as well.
“The whole incident is a lot more than just what happened at Virginia Tech,” he said. “It shows a problem with just how open our society is and how our education system is set up so that we thrive on working with each other. When that breaks down, that’s what causes these problems.”
Adedana Ashebir ’09, who was in Virginia visiting a friend at the College of William and Mary when the attacks took place, was struck by the degree to which her friend’s campus was affected. She was inspired to follow William and Mary’s lead and create a banner for Yale to send to Virginia Tech expressing support. She said that although many Yalies feel far more detached from Virginia Tech than the students at William and Mary do, she hopes students will come together and recognize the “brilliant and talented” students that were killed on Monday.
“We’re far away, [and] we have our Yale bubble,” Ashebir said. “But I just wanted them to know … even though we’re really different, we were still thinking about them and we were still praying for them.”
The banner — which Ashebir said reads “Our thoughts are with the Virginia Tech community at this difficult time” — was signed during yesterday’s vigil and will be up in Commons today for students to sign before it is sent to Virginia by the end of the week.
During the vigil, Streets and several students spoke about importance of preventing backlash against Korean Americans, which some have feared because Cho was of South Korean decent. Andrew Yu ’08, the president of Korean Students at Yale, said there have been mixed responses from Korean students at the University, some of whom are worried that the rest of the Korean American community will be linked to Cho and others who do not think there will be a negative impact. He said the KASY board and as well as the board of Hanppurri — the organization for international students from Korea — will be meeting in the next several days to discuss what if any action they should take.
“There have been voices on either side of the argument,” Yu said. “Personally, I’m concerned about how this reflects on the Korean community, but other people say he was a disturbed person and this has nothing to do with his [Korean heritage], which of course I know is true. At this point, we’re still going to talk about it.”
Dean of Students Betty Trachtenberg said that, aside from Ashebir’s suggestion for creating a banner, she has not spoken to many other students about the shootings. She said those she has spoken to are “going about their own business” and that she has not had contact with students seeking outlets for grief or anger.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said members of the Yale community have expressed a “concerned sadness” to him this week, and he has been answering students’ questions about safety on campus. He said what is most important at Yale is to create a “culture where we look out for each other” and that if anyone sees warning signs from someone who might hurt themselves or others in the future, he hopes the information will be passed on to residential college administrators or the University Health Services’ Mental Hygiene department.
Earlier this week, Yale Police Department Sgt. Steven Woznyk said the YPD has a prepared response in the event of an incident similar to that at Virginia Tech, though they declined to elaborate on the plans.
Salovey said he is pleased that students and faculty have been coming together to cope with the Virginia Tech tragedy.
“I certainly think it’s good that students want to express their caring and concern and that they do that by reaching out to each other,” Salovey said.