May 7, 2007

University Shootings: I'm Sure It's All Just A Coincidence

While preparing the post on the unusual characteristics of the suicides at MIT, I looked up university shootings and found, well... draw your own conclusions: 

Dec. 6, 1989: Gamil Gharbi, 25, engineering student at the University of Montreal, kills 13 women and wounds others (he released the men.) 

Nov. 1, 1991: Gang Lu, 28, physics grad student at the University of Iowa, shoots his dissertation advisor and five people and himself.

Aug. 15, 1996: Frederick Davidson, 36, grad student in engineering at San Diego State, shoots three professors at his dissertation defense. 

Aug. 28, 2000: James Easton Kelly, 36, a grad student at the University of Arkansas, dropped from the PhD program and shoots his dissertation advisor and himself.

Oct. 21, 2002:  Huan Xiang, 38, senior at Monash University (Australia) uses five 9mms to kill two students and wound others before being subdued.

May 10, 2003: Biswanath Halder, 62, former student, returns to Case Western with two 9mm and opens fire, supposedly over a failed lawsuit against the school.

Oct. 28, 2002: Robert Flores, 40, Gulf War vet and failing out of University of Arizona Nursing College, comes in with 5 guns and shoots three teachers and himself.

Jan. 16, 2002: Peter Odighizuwa, 42, grad student recently dismissed from Virginia's Appalachian School of Law,  shoots the Dean and a few others before getting subdued by students.

Sept. 13, 2006: Kimveer Gill (fun pics here), 25, opens fire with automatic weapons at Dawson College (Montreal), kills 20 and himself. 

And, of course, April 16, 2007: , Cho Seung Hui, 23, the not mentally ill former stalker of two women who shot up Virginia Tech.

So graduate school is so stressful it makes people snap?  Or is that just the Gulf of Tonkin? 

Too old, too disconnected, too-- weird--  to be accepted or acceptable in a closed environment where social life is as important, if not more important, than academic performance; where individuality is really flavored homogeneity ("no, dude-- my iPod is white");  where "what frat?" says more than  "what major?"; riding the internet while everyone gets a lot more sex, with a lot better looking people, than you; and, the last straw, your only claim to university related self-esteem gets forcibly "taken" from you.

And no, it's not the universities' fault, and it's not the media's fault, it's not mental illness, antidepressants, the "permissive society," porn, or lax gun laws.  These are the convenient banalities politicians will use to appeal to a mindless base.  No.  This is what happens when you don't know who you are.  And it is only going to get worse.


I ranted about you on Shrin... (Below threshold)

May 7, 2007 7:10 PM | Posted by dinah: | Reply

I ranted about you on Shrink Rap in a post called Face to Face. It was a while ago, but seeing this reminded me.

Admin's response: can't we all just get along?

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Bet you didn't know that yo... (Below threshold)

May 7, 2007 7:53 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Bet you didn't know that you need to be at least 21 to buy a gun in the states (which will at least push the average age of those using guns in their acts of violence toward the grad-school range). Even you won't get on Digg for saying that well adjusted people don't go nuts with firearms on college campuses. No, he was mentally ill. Cho was psychotic. The social environment he was describing in his videos, his imaginary girlfriend 'Jelly', his less-than-functional problem-solving skills, and his confrontations of women (I'm sure there are more examples) all point to the psychotic construction of his own reality. He needed psychiatric help.

And I'll bet $2 this post doesn't make it to the website.

(Admin's response: as a quick response, I'm not disagreeing he wasn't delusional; but I am saying it was not a pre-existing psychosis that made him go off. He did make it to senior year of college, after all, making his psychosis less than total. So it made him shoot people, but not be unable to write all his papers, pass all his tests, make home videos, buy Glocks, etc?

I'll grant that he wasn't stable. But no way did a mental illness drive him to homicide. He knew what he was doing, and he knew what he was doing was wrong, and he had the ability to control himself: not insane.

As for the guns, you don't mean to imply that the reason all these guys were older is because only they could get access to guns? Getting a gun is almost as easy as beer. The legality of the guns has nothing to do with it.

As for psychiatric help-- and maybe this is what I am getting at-- there is absolutely no pill that would have prevented this. Except halothane. Now, if "help" means some sort of intensive therapy, then I agree-- though I don't know what kind, it would have to be something to reform his identity. Which brings me back to "it's all about identity." Who are you? "I'm Ishmael Ax." Ok, then we have a problem.

And as for your comment getting on my site, I have an extremely aggressive spam filter that I do not know how to fix (I am not at all technically inclined.) I go through the spam once a day, and replace comments (like yours) that got flagged as spam.

Look, it took me a year to change the color to black on white. Cut me some slack.)

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Seung-hui Cho was totally a... (Below threshold)

May 8, 2007 11:15 PM | Posted by Leslie Feldman: | Reply

Seung-hui Cho was totally abnormal from his conception from my point of view. No one normal is cold, unresponsive, ferocious, and can't converse from the beginning. There was no normality in him ever.Psychosis such as he demonstrated was present from the start.

Admin's response: let's say you are right, he was psychotic. Is that why he pulled the trigger? Are you saying that, except for treating his psychosis, there was nothing that could be done to prevent him from doing this? And, of course, if it was mental illness, what should we do now? Treat him? what if that fails? Should we jail him? Shoot him?

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I've tried to understand wh... (Below threshold)

May 10, 2007 10:30 AM | Posted by Leslie Feldman: | Reply

I've tried to understand why he did it.

1. Maybe he never felt any love at all, not ever, and your explanation that some identity was better than absolutely none or a weak identity is very correct.
2. Maybe he was on anti- depressants? I've have heard that they can alter an already horrible state in some people and cause such a state of agitation that people do violent things that wouldn't otherwise have done.
3. I looked at Seug-hui Cho's date of birth and did an astrological chart. also looked at the chart of the massacre. You can see some answers there if one is so inclined.

4. He's already done it, so what can be learned?

5. I think coming clean on where much non-familial neurocognitive mental illness like Seung-hui Cho's comes from would be a help. The general public should be informed about the robust connection between risk of schizophrenia/autism in kids and increasing paternal age.
Call a spade a spade. Men should be discouraged from fathering children past the age of 32-33. Cho's father was 38-or 39 when Seung-hui was born. I'm sure you will not agree with this.
Dr. Dolores Malaspina wrote:
"There have been no failures to replicate the paternal age effect, nor its approximate magnitude, in any adequately powered study. The data support the hypothesis that paternal age increases schizophrenia risk through a de novo genetic mechanism. The remarkable uniformity of the results across different cultures lends further coherence to the conclusion that this robust relationship is likely to reflect an innate human biological phenomenon that progresses over aging in the male germ line, which is independent of regional environmental, infectious, or other routes."

The profits made from the mentally ill discourage any public health warnings about damaged genes in the sperm in older men causing devastating cognitive mental illness.

6. Mental illness like Seung-hui Cho's is a very big business for some industries and some psychiatrists who wrote the DSM IV to confuse the public about the upswing in schizophrenia due to the vast increase in older men fathering babies. They renamed childhood schizophrenia autism and then claim its cause is a mystery and say that they are looking for treatments and cures. It is a total SCAM. The CDC doesn't even mention paternal age as a risk factor for autism. The CDC certainly never mentions that schizophrenia rates would come down if healthy men cryobanked sperm in their mid 20s to 30 and stopped fathering babies naturally, after the age of 33. Increasing markets for antipsychotics and money for researchers trying to "cure" or "predict" or "treat" autism is a big part of the financial allure of certain industries.
7. For the existing population I have radical ideas. First grants to people for long-term weekly therapy with well trained emotionally supportive therapists who are not demeaning and are spiritually oriented might be helpful.

8. Be like Switzerland. One death of a miserable person is much better than what happened at Virginia Tech.

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Being in college and away f... (Below threshold)

May 10, 2007 11:26 AM | Posted by AK: | Reply

Being in college and away from home can stress a fragile personality past its breaking point. And graduate school carries additional pressures.

Graduate school can be the worst possible place for someone who is fragile. I say this as one who, when immature, entered a Ph.D program and left without taking a degree.

Being miserable in grad school does not by itself determine whether someone will commit violence against themselves or others.

Otherwise there'd be even more mayhem in the halls of academe than has already occurred.

Still grad school is especially challenging. You have to self activate, yet at the same time are in a subordinate, vulnerable position in relation to faculty members who do not always remember in any empathic way that they themselves were once socialy and financially vulnerable in relation to thier own academic mentor/parents.

I was in graduate school, left without getting a degree. I was immature for my age, had some psychological problems of my own. But I'd already been in therapy and resumed therapy soon after beginning graduate studies.

The program I was in was dysfunctional. I later completed an MA degree at another program and there were none of problems that Program I had. Others confirmed that what went on in Program X was dysfunctional, even in relation to other Ph.D programs.

Other people in my class did all they could to transfer as soon as they recognized that it was a loser.

All this being said, here are my reflections on the special pressures of graduate school:

1) There is an important difference between graduate school and undergraduate school. In your undergraduate years, you are operating within a structured environment. In graduate school, you have to self activate, identify an area of interest, select faculty members to serve as your mentors. And you have to recognize whether your mentors are actually assisting your development and be able to find more satisfactory mentors if your first choices dont work well.

There is also some pre-existing structure in law, medical and dental school.

But Ph.D programs require a special degree of ego strength. You have to self activate and create your own course of study and your own contribution, but earn your dues by following the guidelines of the tenured faculty, obeying their whims, and doing their scut work.

In Ph.D programs, you are more exposed to personality squabbles and intra-departmental politics among your facutly members, and you have to find ways to tip toe around and through all this, because these people have power, you do not and they affect your future prospects.

Graduate students also have to acquire teaching skills because quite often they are TA's/Teaching Assistants in undergraduate courses, and serve as liasons between the undergrads and the less accesible senior faculty.

As if this is not enough, graduate students have to pass oral exams, create a dissertation project, assemble a committee and then create an original contribution to their field, convert this into a written presentation and defend it before a committee--all the while living in frugal circumstances and with concern about future employment prospects.

All this is a heavy strain on even a hardy, resilient person with mature ego structure. A person who is internally fragile might well feel trapped, helpless, and perhaps crack under such pressures.

I recall feeling shame ridden when sensing my own personal inadequacies--I was developmentally about 10 plus years behind my grad school classmates and it was a ghastly thing to face.

I was under pressure from my parents, and was away from home for the first time in my life.

And our program was badly run, and the faculty would lash out at students who innocently blundered into turf battles. One faculty member required us to turn in our papers on time, then took up to two years to grade them. Our grades in her classes would be on the verge of converting from Incompletes to F's before shed' finally get off her rear and grade them. What added to our collective annoyance was knowing she was distracted by an affair.

When we complained that this was unfair and disrespectful, we were told 'You're in the Army now.'

(At least you know you are joining the army before you sign the form and take the oath...)

All this was nearly impossible to explain to someone not in such circumstances.

I alternated between self loathing and utter resentment. Once, when screamed at by my mother for wasting the family money, I was nearly suicidal. Perhaps what saved me was that I shared a dorm room with a wonderful room-mate and she was able to listen while I broke down and wailed.

The other thing that saved me was knowing I had to work on myself. I resumed therapy and stayed there.

Though I despised the faculty members for their lack of respect, it never occurred to me to kill them. Instead I wrote some satirical short stories and comic books at their expense.

It may relevant that I took no drugs and did not use alcohol. I probably had an Axis II disorder, some degree of dysthemia and used dissociation as a defense. But there's been no history of biopolar or psychosis in my family.

All I can say is, if someone is already pre-disposed to violence and to project blame onto others, they should avoid graduate school--it is full of power imbalances and will stress test one's inner landscape. The only thing worse than graduate school is active service in a combat zone or being in prison staffed by those who dont abide by the Geneva Conventions.

Admin's response: your point about grad school needing a special kind of ego strength is right on, I think. Med/law school tries very hard to pass you through, despite thier intensity. From the moment you enter med school, they tell you you are a doctor. Not so a PhD program, no matter how much you might hope you are. And then one day it all goes horribly wrong, and you have no back up plan...and I agree, the faculty is generally very unhelpful, often hypercritical for no reason. Sure, MDs get pimped on rounds, but it's nothing like a PhD and I went through one of those as well.)

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I can say that graduate sch... (Below threshold)

May 10, 2007 11:57 PM | Posted by AK: | Reply

I can say that graduate school does not have to be an abuse fiesta. But you need to be alert and do your reasearch carefully.

I later went to a seminary at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. I wrote and defended an MA thesis.

The second reader on my MA thesis took care to advise me on how to select people for my committee. She actually told me that two two people were squabbling and should not be put together on the committee, lest I get entangled in their mess--a complication I needed like a hole in the head.

hen I expressed amazement and gratitude for this inside dope, Dr. X told me that she'd been put through hell during her Ph.D dissertation process and she was determined to do what she could to keep her own students from going through that same kind of crap.

What a concept, eh? Responding to abuse by deciding 'Let the cycle stop with me and go no further.'

Must mention that before I went away to my first, shitty graduate school, I did get a warning of what lay ahead.

One afternoon, shortly before graduating from college, when hanging out with the grad students in the psychology department, I made smart ass comment, 'Graduate school is just the thing for someone into bondage and discipline.'

The grad students did a double take and burst into shrill, hysterical laughter. That laughter had an edge but no merriment.

I felt a sudden chill, as if my collar was being turned back and my hair trimmed prior to ascending to the guillotine platform. That what I thought was a mere sally a terrible truth than than I could yet imagine.

Kind of like being a young squirt, thinking you know all about war because you've played video games...and the real soldiers are letting you stay happy in your ignorance...for the time being.

A pal of mine got her Ph.D in nursing. She had troubles in her department but had more adult ego strength than I did.

At one point, after being jerked around, she got in her dissertation committee chair's face and said,

'I can work in nursing any time I want. And I have a marriage. If I have to choose between this Ph.D and my marriage, let me tell you, it will be an easy choice.'

Her chairperson, fortunately, was reasonable and they worked things out, and my pal got her degree and stayed married.

But...she'd been a head nurse on quite a number of wards and and could kick ass and find work any time she needed to.

She knew she had a life and options outside of graduate school.

People like that dont pull triggers. They get their sense of power from other, prosocial sources.

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