Virginia Tech



The Virginia Tech Shooting’s Impact on Emergency Preparedness

Mental illness, racial identity and the Virginia Tech shooting

This article from MedPage Today discusses how the miscommunication within the education system indirectly enabled Seung Hui Cho to commit the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. During middle and high school, Cho was diagnosed with social anxiety and selective mutism – defined as the inability to speak and communicate effectively in select social settings. Cho wrote a paper in English class years before which expressed suicidal and homicidal thoughts; this prompted the school and his family to get a psychiatric evaluation for him. This evaluation, however, was never communicated to Virginia Tech when Cho enrolled. This unfortunately allowed him to purchase guns and carried out the massacre. 

The Virginia Tech incident not only sheds light on the ill-regulated firearms possession in the United States but it only opens conversations about mental health in the Asian American community. Historically, Asian Americans have expressed stigma against mental illness and objected to counseling for such. As a result, many Asian Americans went undiagnosed or lived in fear of criticism from their family and community. 

After the incident, Virginia Tech has modified its emergency management to be prompter and more aggressive. Several departments such as law enforcement, human resources, student and academic affairs, legal counsel, and mental health services are now involved in the threat assessment process. Annual emergency preparedness sessions are also implemented, and digital lockdown of all campus buildings was also put in place. 

What happened at Virginia Tech in April 2007 was a tragedy, but it should not be blamed on Cho alone; the academic and cultural environment he was in was equally responsible for the incident. Thirteen years have passed, we shall never forget what happened but let this be a lesson for us to hold everyone accountable when we fail an individual in our community.