“Do you remember if that was here yesterday?” he asked.
I shrugged and mumbled something about not remembering, feeling stupid. I spent a considerable amount of time on this floor of my building; it was my floor of troublemaker residents. Not being able to remember if there was a bullet hole in the glass next to the stairwell door seemed ridiculous. But in this moment — less than 24 hours after the Virginia Tech massacre — it was a hugely important detail as police evaluated whether this was an active threat or stale vandalism left unrepaired and ignored.
The officer made a note on his pad and then took a picture of the graffiti around the bullet hole. Scrawled in permanent marker below the hole in the safety glass was a reference to the previous day’s massacre. Though he reassured me he didn’t think it was an active threat, I went back to my apartment and sat awake, waiting for the phone to ring with notification we’d been wrong.
In less than a day, my own job, hundreds of miles from Blacksburg, had changed dramatically. There was no waiting for the ripple of effects of the Virginia Tech shootings; there was an immediacy in the way student affairs started evaluating protocols for students of concern and responding to threats on campuses. Five years later, campuses are still navigating these waters and, it’s safe to say, no functional area of higher education has been left untouched by the deadliest campus shooting in history. Laws have changed, procedures have changed, standards have changed — we have changed.
Five years after the massacre that killed 32 and wounded 25, we are all still Hokies. All of our lives were touched in some way by April 16, 2007 and so we became part of a community forever changed, linking student affairs professionals across the world in a startling, humbling moment of both the limitations and potential of our field to create safe places on our campuses. Remembering the events of that day is not isolated to this anniversary; it’s become part of our culture as a field. And in that way, we keep the memory of those who lost their lives close to our hearts as we keep working toward change on our campuses.
How did the Virginia Tech massacre change your work as a student affairs professional? How are you remembering the five-year anniversary today?