What We Can Learn From Virginia Tech


What We Can Learn From Virginia Tech


By Dr. Thomas Parham

In the wake of the tragic events that occurred at Virginia Tech University, many in our community will be forced to wrestle with and confront some tough questions and concerns. Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and families, as well as the broader campus community. No amount of planning and preparation can ever truly prepare one for the events that unfolded on April 16, and yet our thoughts cannot resist the tendency to delve into spaces that invite critical reflection and analysis about our own vulnerability to such a tragedy within the borders of this campus.

Times like these challenge our individual and collective sensibilities as we seek to desperately cling to notions of life that are far more predictable, less scary and less unsettling. Our designs for living and patterns for interpreting reality have been shaken by this single act of horrific proportion, which dislodges us from our comfortable spaces of intellectual, emotional, behavioral and even spiritual comfort.

As people struggle to cope with this horrific tragedy, it is likely that some will experience a broad range of emotional reactions, including anxiety, confusion, depression, insecurity, anger, resentment, sadness, vulnerability and fear. Some may experience difficulty sleeping, eating or concentrating on their studies. These feelings are normal and reasonable, and consistent with what mental health professionals predict. Over time, these feelings will diminish for most people.

We want each member of our community to know that we are here for you in ways that ensure, to the best of our ability, your safety, as well as address your emotional and psychological well-being in this time of extreme distress.

In recalling the incidents of last week, I want to invite each of you to resist the temptation to espouse what could or should have been done. Hindsight is always 20/20, and none of us really knows what it was like in the moments surrounding the tragedy. What I do want to encourage and provide is an invitation to explore the implications of this tragedy for our own UC Irvine campus and the psychological resources that are available to assist us, should some incident darken our door.

First, no one can predict with absolute certainty if or when such a tragedy might occur or when individuals, whether reacting to normal life stressors or challenged to cope with some level of mental illness, are likely to erupt. We have little, if any, control over these events that so impact our lives. Fortunately, incidents like Virginia Tech or Columbine are relatively infrequent and it is important to remind ourselves that order is much more frequent than disorder and tragedy, and our blessings in life far outweigh our trials and tribulations.

What we do control is how we manage our own spaces, and how we access and/or refer individuals to the resources that can help them better cope with personal or life challenges, particularly in times of moderate or severe distress. The UCI campus is blessed with a full array of mental and physical health and wellness services. The Counseling Center provides a broad range of mental health treatment that can deliver individual and group counseling and therapy, walk-in and triage coverage, consultation, psycho-educational workshops and training, and crisis intervention. Our Student Health Mental Health Clinic, in addition to the psychological interventions listed below, also delivers psychiatric assessment, pharmacotherapy and consultation. Our campus also boasts a Health Education Center that provides important information on healthy lifestyle support that can be useful in managing or coping with a tragic circumstance. Please encourage students to take advantage of these services.

If you experience any of these symptoms or would just like someone to talk to, we invite you to contact the Counseling Center at (949) 824-6457 or the Student Health Mental Health Clinic at (949) 824-1835. For staff or faculty, we invite you to contact the Faculty Staff Counseling Center at (949) 824-8355.

Do not be reticent about discussing emergency planning and personal-safety scenarios with your family, roommates and friends. Determine how you will communicate and plan for how you will physically reconnect. Having these plans will provide a focus for stepping through tragic circumstances and help to lessen our concerns about the unknown. UCI's Environmental Health and Safety Web site can walk you through this type of planning.

We also control how we interact with colleagues and friends, and our ability to leave those interactions having helped create a positive space where people feel comfortable, cared about and affirmed for having been with us. A smile, or an encouraging word, goes a long way toward making someone's day.

In addition to the tone of the conversation, we also control the quality of the interaction. How many times a day, in our interactions with friends and colleagues, do we fail to engage people in more genuine and authentic conversations? People respond to our queries about how they are doing with canned, almost robotic answers that suggest they are "fine." And yet, behind many of their replies is a staff, faculty colleague or student friend whose smile masks a deeper pain or hurt, or maybe just a hint of discomfort. You can make a difference in their lives by simply slowing down the questioning enough to get an honest and legitimate answer. If they are experiencing any distress, please refer them to a professional for help and assistance.

Central to our campus values articulated so well by Chancellor Michael Drake is the value of empathy. Let us use this occasion to empathize with the victims, families, students and colleagues in Virginia and pray that their healing will be swift. Let us also allow these circumstances to remind us to engage each person in this UCI campus community with a level of compassion and caring that illustrates their importance to our university family.

Thomas A. Parham is the assistant vice chancellor of counseling and health services and the director of the Counseling Center.


Thomas A. Parham


New University




Sara Hood


Zachary Gale <newueic@gmail.com>




Thomas A. Parham , “What We Can Learn From Virginia Tech,” The April 16 Archive, accessed May 18, 2024, https://www.april16archive.org/items/show/1144.