The continuing adventures of Beau Yarbrough

Virginia Tech tops in on-campus dining

Monday, October 1, 2007, 10:50
Section: Virginia Tech

Things have clearly changed since 1992. The Princeton Review has rated Virginia Tech as having the best campus food, based on student evaluations. When I was at Tech, notions such as a taco bar were seen as radical and about the best we could expect — after all, the campus catering service’s primary customers were state prisons.

Virginia Tech plays first football game of the season

Friday, August 31, 2007, 20:56
Section: Virginia Tech

Black Virginia Tech flag

From the AP:

They came throughout the day – some bearing flowers, others wiping away a stray tear. They moved slowly, reverently on the gently curving path in front of Burruss Hall, pausing to look at each of the names engraved on 32 distinctive chunks of “Hokie Stone.”

Nicole Regina White. Daniel Patrick O’Neil. Matthew Gregory Gwaltney. Ross A. Alameddine.

“To me, this is like the first day in the beginning of a healing process,” Charles Bray said Friday, he and his wife, Becky, having just strolled past the somber memorial that now occupies a place of honor at his alma mater.

Come Saturday, there will be a commemoration of a different sort. More than 66,000 people – most of them adorned in the gaudy school colors, maroon and orange – will cram every nook and cranny of Lane Stadium to watch their beloved Hokies take on East Carolina in the first game of a new college football season.

“When you talk about ‘We will prevail and get on with our lives,’ sometimes it’s sort of hard,” Bray said. “When is it appropriate to not cry, to not mourn. When is it appropriate to cheer? I think football will make that evident.”

Reema Joseph Samaha. Caitlin Millar Hammaren. Rachael Elizabeth Hill. Waleed Mohamed Shaalan.

Even now, more than four months later, it doesn’t seem possible that the worst mass shooting in modern American history could befall an idyllic campus such as Virginia Tech, nestled up against the Blue Ridge Mountains, far away from any hustle and bustle.

Then you see all those names carved in stone, each of them representing a life that was cut short so senselessly. They were the ones who paid when a deranged student – one of them, no less – decided to unleash his rage.

Now it’s time for football. The survivors are eager to scream and yell and show the rest of the nation that the Hokie Nation is getting along fine, even though they’ll never forget that bitter April day.

“I suspect there will be a lot of tears shed,” Bray said. “But I think by the end of the game, there will be a lot of cheering. Maybe we’ll have a better feeling about things.”

Good long piece, balanced in its look at sports’ place in collegiate life.

Tech shooting report issued

Thursday, August 30, 2007, 13:54
Section: Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech black ribbonWell, it’s out. It finds some fault with the university, but it also says that there was no reasonable way to prevent what happened.

And I think that’s the truth.

Virginia Tech’s square footage is larger than some High Desert cities and towns, it’s got vastly more buildings than most universities and has a daytime population larger than that of Barstow. There’s just no way to practically control a campus that size, that quickly, when the danger could be anywhere.

There are people who wish the university could have gotten the word out earlier. I can’t disagree with that, although I’m not sure I agree where the threshold is to alarm tens of thousands of people is. If you think it’s a two-person domestic and think you have a suspect in custody, do you want to effectively cancel classes for everyone because of it? I think this was a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario for Tech officials.

Even the AP story on the report is long:

Virginia Tech’s president, facing calls for his ouster, defended his university’s response to the nation’s deadliest school shooting, saying Thursday that officials couldn’t have known the gunman would attack twice.

“Nobody can say for certain what would have happened if different decisions were made,” President Charles Steger told a news conference.

“The crime was unprecedented in its cunning and murderous results,” he said.

A governor-appointed panel that investigated the April 16 massacre at the Blacksburg campus released a report late Wednesday criticizing Virginia Tech officials, saying they could have saved lives if they had acted more quickly to warn students about the first shootings that morning at a dormitory and that a killer was on the loose.

Instead, it took administrators more than two hours to send students and staff an e-mail warning. The shooter had time to leave the dormitory, mail a videotaped confession and manifesto to NBC News, then return to campus and enter a classroom building, chain the doors shut and kill 31 more people, including himself.

“Warning the students, faculty and staff might have made a difference,” the panel in its report. “The earlier and clearer the warning, the more chance an individual had of surviving.”

Steger said the administration was responding during the hours that passed after the first two students were slain in the dormitory.

“The notion that there was a two-hour gap is a great misconception,” Steger said. “There was continuous action and deliberations from the first event until the second, and they made a material difference in the results of the second event.”

One victim’s mother urged the governor to “show some leadership” and fire Steger, and other parents demanded accountability for the errors.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, however, said the school’s officials had suffered enough without losing their jobs.

“I want to fix this problem so I can reduce the chance of anything like this ever happening again,” the governor said. “If I thought firings would be the way to do that, then that would be what I would focus on.”

Kaine said instead that parents of troubled children who are starting college should alert university officials, and those officials should “pick up the phone and call the parent” if they become aware of unusual behavior.

“The information needs to flow both ways,” the governor said.

I sure hope Kaine moves to change the rules about Virginia public schools keeping mental health issues of students and graduates private. Obviously, there are privacy concerns, but I have faith that a provision could be crafted that would respect a student’s privacy but still alert universities to potential problems before a student arrives on campus.

The report detailed a breakdown in communication about the gunman, who had shown signs of mental health problems for years.

His middle school teachers had found signs of suicidal and homicidal thoughts in his writings after the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. He received psychiatric counseling and was on medication for a short time. In 2006, he wrote a paper for his Virginia Tech creative writing class about a young man who hates students at his school and plans to kill them and himself, the report said.

The university’s counseling center failed to give Cho the support he needed despite the warnings, including his referral to the center in 2005 because of bizarre behavior and concerns he was suicidal, the panel said. It blamed a lack of resources, misinterpretation of privacy laws and passivity.

Individuals and departments at Virginia Tech were aware of incidents that suggested his mental instability, but “did not intervene effectively. No one knew all the information and no one connected all the dots,” the report said.

Likewise, the university needs a policy that these sorts of scenarios are reported upwards to the dean of each department, the dean passes this information along to Student Health and Student Health passes along issues that present a possible threat to other students to campus security.

The problem, though, is that creative writing classes — I took three at Virginia Tech — are full of maudlin and dark writings. Do we really want to report every student who writes something a bit bleak or a bit violent? I would have gotten reported, if that were the case.

Pike wounded in April 16 shooting

Tuesday, July 24, 2007, 10:14
Section: Virginia Tech

Black Virginia Tech flag

Contrary to earlier reports, one member of Pi Kappa Alpha’s Epsilon chapter (that’s the fifth chapter chartered, for you non-Greeks) was wounded in the April 16 shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, according to the chapter’s faculty advisor, Tom Tillar, an e-mail he sent out to chapter alumni this week:

News from Blacksburg and the Tech campus is better these days, than just a few months ago. We appreciated hearing from many of you following April 16th. The healing process continues here as we ready for a new fall semester beginning in mid-August. I chaired the university’s special memorial committee to plan and construct a permanent memorial to April 16th. I am pleased that it will be completed in early August, and built almost entirely with contributed materials and labor. We will dedicate it in the first weekend of the semester and host the families of the victims who will return to campus for the occasion.

My more important reason for writing is to share news that one of our PiKA brothers – Fred Cook – was in one of the four targeted Norris Hall classrooms on April 16th. He was in Professor Librescu’s ESM class, and was able to escape from the second story window while his professor held the door so most of his students could escape before being shot and killed himself. Fred had a minor fracture to an ankle from the jump, but is doing fine with it. In fact, he is planning to run in the Marine Corps Marathon in DC in October, along with about 100 Tech students who are raising funds for a memorial scholarship honoring the April 16th victims. The Marathon granted an unprecedented 100 places to our students for this Hokie Spirit Run.

This is an enormously important goal for Fred, who will finish his Engineering degree next May. It will help him in the process of his personal healing from an experience none of us can fully comprehend. I have tried to spend quite a bit of time with him in these months since his experience as a survivor of the tragic shooting.

I have contributed $1,000 toward Fred’s personal goal of raising $10,000 toward the scholarship endowment. And, I have told him that he can count on far exceeding his goal, after I share this message with all of you. Already, my earlier note to just a few Cotillion Club alumni has generated several thousand dollars in gifts toward Fred’s goal. You can learn about his marathon and get in touch with Fred through the flier he created, and I have attached. Fred’s email is

Please consider joining me in supporting Fred’s goal, if you have not already contributed to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund. The scholarship that Fred and the other students are creating is separate from the Hokie Spirit Fund, but within the Virginia Tech Foundation endowed scholarships.

I know Fred would be pleased to hear from you and be encouraged by messages from many Pikes, most of whom he has never met. I have known Fred since he first pledged, and you will not meet a better Pike, or a better Hokie, anywhere. Fred is attending the fraternity’s annual national leadership academy this weekend in Memphis, where he will be recognized and share his message of how valuable the support of his Brothers has been since the tragedy.

We will prevail! Tom

The Virginia Tech Cotillion Club was the organization that was turned into the Epsilon chapter, once fraternities were allowed back on campus in the 1970s, after being absent for almost a century.

On the local media’s job covering the Virginia Tech shootings

Wednesday, June 20, 2007, 8:38
Section: Journalism,Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech black ribbonThe American Journalism Review has an excellent piece on how local media covered the Virginia Tech shootings.

I know that I was amazed at how good a job the Collegiate Times in particular did during that time — in my day, they were more of a social club than a serious news outlet, and published half as many editions a week — even outshining the predictably solid Roanoke Times during the tragedy and its aftermath.

(AJR is a great bi-monthly read, better even than the IRE magazine.)


Copyright © Beau Yarbrough, all rights reserved
Veritas odit moras.