April 23, 2007
Compassion and caring
important responses to tragic Virginia Tech shootings
by carol clark
Just hours after the Virginia Tech shootings left 33 dead, more than a dozen injured, and millions of people stunned, Susan Henry-Crowe, Emory’s dean of the chapel and religious life, was on the phone to the Methodist chaplain at Virginia Tech.
“Things were still in chaos there,” Henry-Crowe said. “But I wanted to let the chaplain know that Virginia Tech was in our hearts and prayers and that Emory was available to help if there was anything we could do.”
Compassion and caring are not only important human responses to a tragedy like Virginia Tech’s, they may also hold the key to preventing at least some future episodes of violence elsewhere, say Emory faculty experts.
“The best security against campus violence is an alert and caring student body,” said Arthur Kellermann, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Emory School of Medicine. Currently on sabbatical as a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow, Kellermann has spent more than 20 years researching gun-violence prevention.
“In many cases, alert peers may pick up cues from such statements and refer the individual for help or tip-off campus authorities,” Kellermann said. “Tragically in this instance, people knew the young man had
problems, but no one realized how sick he had become.”
Nadine Kaslow, an Emory professor of psychiatry and behavioral science and chief psychologist at Grady Memorial Hospital, fielded nearly two dozen phone calls from journalists late into the night following the shootings.
“What struck me was all the interviews from other countries – Australia, Ireland, South America,” she said. “People understand that it could be any college campus, anywhere in the world.”
“For young people to be shot and killed like this, it really touches everyone’s heart,” she added. “Everybody feels so helpless and so outraged.”
On an individual level, it is important to “be mindful” of members of the Emory community who may have lost loved ones at Virginia Tech, Kaslow said. She added that people who have recently suffered some other trauma may have their grief stirred by the news of the shootings.
On the day of the shootings, the Virginia Tech chaplain told Henry-Crowe that the university was still in a state of shock, and the various chaplains were providing space for people to come in and pray and talk. “In any trauma, it takes a while to sort through the situation before you can begin the healing,” Henry-Crowe said.
Meanwhile, the Chaplain’s office was offering counseling to members of the Emory community who were personally touched by the tragedy due to friendships or other associations with Virginia Tech.
“It’s a small world and people are connected in lots of ways,” Henry-Crowe said.