Opinion: We deserve warnings about campus violence

Christina Bucciere is a senior journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].

Christina Bucciere

In a unanimous decision released on Oct. 31, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned a jury verdict in the wrongful death lawsuit brought by the parents of two students who were killed in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.

The justices wrote “there was no duty for the commonwealth to warn students about the potential criminal acts” by student gunman Seung-hui Cho after he shot two students in a dormitory. Nearly two hours later, Cho shot at least 47 people before turning the gun on himself.

Last year, jurors in the case ruled the state was negligent in the deaths of Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson, two of the 32 people killed. The jury awarded the parents of Pryde and Peterson $4 million each, although the court later reduced the amount to $100,000 per family.

But now, the Virginia Supreme Court says the university did what it could.

The jury determined, because of limited information about the first two shootings in Norris Hall, the university did do enough within the two-hour gap between the first and second outburst of violence to warn students of danger.

But one email blast sent two hours after the initial attack is not enough, and the state should have been held accountable for its negligence.

Students enter into an unwritten contract with their school of choice when they set foot on campus.

There is tacit acceptance on the part of students that their university’s officials will warn them of danger. If it were not a university obligation, how can students on one side of campus know about violence erupting on the opposite side? And do they not deserve to know, to have the opportunity, at least, to protect themselves?

What I find most alarming is that this decision reversal clearly contrasts the 2012 federal government’s conclusion about Virginia Tech’s response. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan determined the university should be fined $27,500 for a violation of the Clery Act, the law that requires universities to issue timely warnings of threats to students and staff.

But because there was a supposed lack of information given to Virginia Tech officials, they are suddenly not responsible.

But when violence is reported, even if it is only initially reported with few details, students deserve to know. When administrators wait to inform their student bodies, they strip students of their opportunity to defend themselves.

If tragedy were to strike, I feel confident Kent State administrators would alert the student body in a timely manner, but this decision, regardless of how Kent State, or any other university, would respond, relieves them of accountability. Universities have an obligation to keep students safe. They should not have to worry about being reprimanded if a tragedy occurs on their campus. Unforeseeable third-party criminal acts are the university’s problem.

This mentality is so misguided.

We students need to be aware of this decision because, as we have seen time and again, tragedies do happen, and this decision affirms it’s every student for his or her self.