It is with great sadness that we send out this message. Our hearts are heavy as we all hold great compassion for those whose lives have been shattered by this terrible event at Virginia Tech. Many of you on our mailing list are in K-12 schools, but many of you are also parents of college students. We hope you’ll forward it to other parents of college students and especially, to those you might know who work in colleges. Resources and links…We all always hope it won’t happen again, and we all know that, somewhere, some time, it will. But this was again, another worst.
Because it happened on a college campus, most students are away from their parents. This brings about some special challenges in meeting the needs of these young adults. I want to be sure you all have a link to our guidelines written today for supporting parents and university staff who work with college students at Univ&ParentGuidelinesVaTech. We also have free resources at www.cmionline.org. More importantly, please check out the downloadables link to see our long list of free pdf handouts. You are welcome to download any of these and make as many copies to give to anyone you like, leaving the footer with contact and copyright information intact.
A special note to universities…Often we think if youth don’t let us know they’re bothered, they’re doing OK. This is a time to offer many differing opportunities for students to gather together in forums, in faith-based gatherings, in dorms and in other clusters. Included on the handout are suggestions for the structuring of such gatherings. Please feel free to go to our contacts page to leave an email of specific questions about how best to support students in these times. I will also be posting and answering questions in this “blog” forum as well.Our heartfelt sympathies are with families, friends, university staff and all whose lives have been touched by this terrible event.
What can I do as a parent of a college-aged student?
This is such a difficult time and issue in some ways. Developmentally, this is when your child is to grow independent from you, and yet the first and most important need for students, especially those who are in any way personally affected by this event, is to reconnect with primary family and re-establish their sense of safety in the world. It is my expectation that many students will be going home for the week or weekend, and some may be reluctant to return to school. So first off, stay close, by phone, drop notes and emails, in whatever way seems helpful for your child.
Encourage your child to maintain those routines that give a sense of predictability. Indulge them in special needs for awhile. Encourage them to spend more time with friends.
Also, encourage your child’s college or university to do more than just the vigils and spiritually-based gatherings. Those are critical, but they are also being offered at most campuses. Many, though, aren’t so certain about whether to do student forums. They need to be well-planned and executed if there is any likelihood that racist attitudes will be an issue, but the only way for students to feel safe at school is to have a forum and the means of knowing with all certainty that the administration in their setting is accessible, listening, and caring how students are doing.
Also some forums need to focus on the school climate — whether students are very accepting of other ethnic groups or cliquish. Students need to begin to address the consequences of our actions. We’ve all bullied someone in our lives. We need to begin to recognize that, although some shooters are mentally ill and nothing that anyone did caused it (such as paranoid schizophrenia) we also need to recognize that, in many, many cases, shooters feel tormented by others, they feel victimized and isolated. Students, staff, parents and adults in all of our communities need to begin to take a hard look at the universal consequences of bigotry, racism, discrimination, bullying and harassment.
Colleges would also do well to organize things for students to do to reach out to Virginia Tech. Some colleges are sending peace cranes (origami). These projects are the sorts of things that allow us to feel less helpless.
Empowering students to take proactive steps toward knowing and influencing the school safety plans for their colleges and especially for their dorms will also be helpful. We can’t guess what will help students feel safer. We have to ask them and involve them in the process or it won’t have the desired effect. We have to ask, both what will help them at school and what they need from family and home.
We have Asian children in our elementary school who are being bullied, teased and tormented. What can we do right now?
Right now today, you could have each teacher in your building generate a list from his/her students about how they could somehow reach out to the Korean community. There could be all kinds of ways to do that. Students could take hanging origami cranes to businesses owned by Koreans or Asians (as many Asian groups are suffering discrimination at this point) or writing a letter to the editor as “Children in Mrs. Jones Fifth Grade Class Reach Out To Our Asian Neighbors…”
Several counselors and teachers have asked what they can do about harassment and bullying toward Asian students in the aftermath of the shooting at Virginia Tech.
There probably isn’t a school or college administrator who would say that they allow blatant racism or bigotry on campus, yet to do any less than take a proactive stand about this is acceptance of just that. Although we’d like to think of it as something less, this is a critical moment in time to either use the teachable moment in this tragedy or further entrench the already-strained race and ethnic intolerance that already exists in our country.
There are two ways of going about this. One is to have strident discipline toward those who show intolerance, injustice, bullying or harassing behavior toward, in this moment in our history, those of Asian descent. It might stop what you see in the hallways when someone is looking, but it doesn’t necessarily quell the problem when youth are out of sight. There is a far greater opportunity here.
This is the time to have classroom discussion, student forums, assemblies, activities and opportunities to bring students to a place of deciding for themselves that they don’t want to further these prejudices.
This is a time to create serious and soulful times together when students look inward and consider times they were misunderstood, harassed, bullied, or treated unjustly. This is a time for them to connect with fairness, justice, and it is our duty, our responsibility and our privilege to help them move toward their role in the creation of a more civil society.
While I’m not suggesting that we drop discipline or corrective action toward students or staff who exhibit racism or bigotry, I am suggesting that there is a far greater opportunity here to become change agents for bettering race relations, furthering understanding and caring, and improving school climate.
Here are a few discussion points:
Although perhaps in long-term history someone knows of a school shooting or mass killing of this sort that was perpetrated by a person of Asian descent, a starting place for discussion might be for students to research all of the school shootings and mass murders we can find in the past 20 or 30 years. Look at the ethnicity of these perpetrators. Few if any have been Asian. In fact, far fewer are at the hands of minority groups. Littleton, Springfield OR, Red Lion PA, Peducah KY, Jonesboro AR, Conyers GA — the list goes on, and the number committed by minorities is — a minority.
It appears that when the shooter is a minority, that becomes a focus of the story. For most of these events, however, being perpetrated by those of European descent is rarely if ever mentioned. This simply further indicates the level of discrimination that is so endemic in our culture, we have failed to question this.
So a beginning place might be to have students look at the statistics of ethnicities for the OK City bombing and the many mass and school shootings in recent memory. The question becomes,
• “What does it mean that the majority are committed by people of European descent? How does that validate or invalidate the intolerance currently being shown to those of Asian descent?”
• What are some examples of underserved intolerance?
• What kinds of things happen in the lives of youth who become so separated from the souls of others that they have no regard for the sanctity of life — have no compassion toward others?
• What kinds of things do you see happen in the hallways of our school that could cause a student to have (now) or grow up to have such hatred that this student would be willing to act out in such rage?
• What is your role in cultivating more possibilities that this will happen in the future? What is your role in changing this in our school climate?
• What are the consequences for all of us when students are harassed, bullied or tormented?
• What role might mental illness play in someone coming to such a place of rage, blame and violence?
• How do you want your world to be? What is each of our part in this?
Administrators and counselors have asked whether having discussion in class, having a moment of silence at school and other such observances are apt to trigger students into misbehavior or into feeling greater fear.
I wouldn’t worry about a moment of silence being a trigger. But I see that there are lots of ways to do so much more than what can be a fairly empty moment in a child’s life — these gestures aren’t any more work than a moment of silence and help kids grow. For instance, instead of just a moment of silence, what about a moment of reflection that is guided with minimal verbal suggestion. Like…
“Let’s take this moment to open our hearts in sympathy for all whose lives have been touched by the terrible event at Virginia Tech…. (pause)… and lets take this moment to think about all for which we are grateful in family, friends and school. … (pause)… and lets take this moment, also, to reflect on the ways in which we could reach out in sister- and brotherhood, in friendship or support, in compassion or in understanding to others who are different from ourselves… those whom we may have slighted, or those who are being slighted by others. Let this moment stand as a beacon in our lives, reminding us we always have the opportunity to make the higher choice.”
Also I’ve heard that there are many colleges that are making thousands of peace cranes (origami) to welcome students back to school. Maybe some of your students would like to do that as well.
I think the kinds of things that are more apt to be triggers are such things as the graphic television coverage of this, the tapes of this deranged man preparing to do this, loud noises, fireworks, that sort of thing. I’m far far far more concerned about kids watching the coverage we’ve seen on television than what might occur in a well-planned thoughtful classroom discussion or a moment of silence.