Bullying and Tragedy

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By Dan Coulter

This week, thirty-two people died at the hands of a disturbed student at Virginia Tech. Thirty-three people, when you also count his suicide.

I was struck by statements from a number of people who had responsibility for comforting the friends and family of the victims. They said there was no one particular thing you could say. Often you just needed to be there to listen. I think that's wise counsel. This is a searing, unimaginable loss, felt in his or her own way by every person in mourning. My heart goes out to them.

What I know of this tragedy comes from media coverage. As usual after such an event, much of the coverage I've seen tended toward the sensational, but portions may help us understand some useful things about what happened.

I saw an Associated Press story today by Matt Apuzzo. It quoted former classmates of the killer, Cho Seung-Hui, describing how Cho was bullied and teased in middle school and high school.

In the story, a classmate described an incident in high school when Cho remained silent, looking down after an English teacher had called on him to read aloud in class. When the teacher threatened him with an "F" for participation, Cho began to read, but used a strange, deep voice.

"As soon as he started reading, the whole class started laughing and pointing and saying, 'Go back to China'," recalled a student who'd gone to high school with Cho.

Another former classmate described students in middle school who were "really mean" to Cho, pushing him down and making fun of the fact that he didn't speak English well.

While this is only part of the picture, it seems clear from the writing and videos Cho left behind that being bullied and harassed had a terrible impact on him.

I wonder what people will take away from this.

I hope they don't start seeing everyone who is bullied as a potential mass murderer. Something else that comes out of the coverage is that Cho was treated for mental illness and had lost touch with reality.

But I hope people do see the anguish that bullying and teasing can cause.

I've heard again and again from parents about children robbed of any joy at school. Kids who just want to be accepted and "treated like everyone else."

Who suffer stomach aches from the fear of being preyed on. Kids with tremendous potential being made to feel like nothing.

And yes, there are some kids who bullying may push toward violence.

If you've watched the news coverage about the Virginia Tech tragedy, you've probably heard commentators and experts talking about what we might do to prevent such attacks in the future. I've heard suggestions about profiling, increased campus security and a range of other options.

But one practical thing we can all do, is work for anti-bullying programs that educate both students and teachers in our schools. While such programs can help millions of students who wouldn't harm anyone, one also might touch a life in a way that could help avert a tragedy in the making.

In addition to mourning the lives lost at Virginia Tech, working to enrich and preserve lives in the future is a memorial available to us all.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Dan Coulter is the producer of the Intricate Minds series of videos that help classmates understand and accept students who have Asperger Syndrome and autism. You can find more articles at his website at coultervideo.com.

Copyright 2007 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

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