Bazelon Center on Virginia Tech Shootings
There’s lots of talk in these post-Virginia Tech tragedy days of the need to better identify students who are disturbed, just as there are plenty of calls from politicians and others to find ways to quickly remove them from colleges. An advocacy group for people with mental illness thinks the talk has gone too far.
“It’s sad that in the wake of a tragedy like this, there’s the hunger for quick fixes and quick legislation,” said Robert Bernstein, executive director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, at a press conference Thursday.
Added Chris Koyanagi, the center’s policy director: “I’m disappointed that the conservation has been about what could have been done right before to prevent this [shooting spree]. What about earlier?”
Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech shooter, entered a mental health facility in late 2005. Several leaders of the Bazelon Center said the real story is that police didn’t know where to turn when alerted of Cho’s stalking and threat of suicide, and that professors who saw the student’s disturbing writing didn’t find the right resources in the public health system.
Center advocates say changes have to be made at colleges so that everyone is aware of protocol when dealing with a student who is deemed a threat. Leaders of the center are working on a best practices report that urges colleges to avoid blanket policies that limit a student’s likelihood of seeking help but that still allow officials to intervene when needed.
Bernstein said the larger issue is fixing what he calls large gaps in service availability. Too few counselors are available to students at many campuses, he said.