Virginia Tech history professor Woody Farrar is usually able to
lecture for hours, but this time he worried about what he would say -
if he could even get the words out - when his students returned to
his class Monday, a week after the worst shooting in US history took
place on campus.
"On one hand, I feel assaulted, like someone came into my house
and trashed it," says Mr. Farrar, who specializes in sports and
military history. "On the other hand, this was like a tornado come
down out of the sky, unpredictable and random."
He's one of hundreds of teachers struggling to come up with words
to greet returning students whose lives were turned upside down when
a troubled English major and fellow classmate started shooting in
the West Ambler Johnston dorm last Monday, killing two students. Cho
Seung-Hui then fired more than 100 shots in Norris Hall, killing
five teachers and 26 more students, including himself.
"We're all kind of visualizing: What am I going to do when I walk
into class?" says Carol Burger, a women's studies professor on
campus. "We're trying to be ready for anything and follow the
students' lead." In the past, schools have shut down for various
lengths of time after a campus tragedy occurred. Kent State
University in Kent, Ohio, closed for six weeks after four antiwar
protester students were killed by National Guard troops in 1970.
Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., didn't reopen for two
weeks after two students killed 15 people including themselves in
But a yearning for normalcy, as well as an urgency to reconnect
with students before the semester ends on May 3, prompted the
Virginia Tech administration to resume classes only a week after the
It will be a difficult transition, for sure. Some 300 students,
by some estimates, were directly involved in the incident, possibly
leaving them with emotional traumas. But thousands of others felt
just as "violated," Farrar says.
Lawrence Johnson, a senior majoring in sociology, says crunching
data for a paper took four hours at a study session last week when
it should have taken a half hour. "People are just distracted; you
can't think," he says.
In hastily called department meetings last week, professors
argued over whether it was too early to return to class. Should they
forge ahead with vigor? Or talk to students individually for the
rest of the semester to help them deal with the tragedy? But
administrators reasoned that cancelling the rest of the school year
seemed overly alarmist.
Instead, the school is urging professors to open each class with
a 20-minute discussion before moving on to regular class work. Some
teachers say they'll try to engage students in conversation; others
will let students dictate what happens in class. …