*From a recorded interview
As told by
O.E. “Ed” Elmore
Senior lecturer in finance and management
Vice-president and shareholder of Hoelscher, Lipsey & Elmore, Attorneys-at-Law, College Station
The Virginia Tech shooting took place on Monday, April 16, 2007. On that day, I was self-absorbed with buying a car, so I really was almost oblivious to what happened. The same day, the students in my business law class were taking their most difficult examination of the semester, so I suspect that they were focusing more on that than they were on what was happening out in the real world.
On Tuesday the 17th, I asked some student workers in my office if their professors had talked about Virginia Tech in class, and they said no. Then Wednesday morning, the same students said that still nothing had been said about it. So I thought that it seemed to be like a white elephant in the room. Everybody knows it’s there, but nobody feels comfortable to talk about it. I certainly didn’t have any pearls of wisdom to give, but I decided to try to precipitate a little discussion about Virginia Tech in my classes.
I marched into the classroom prior to class on Wednesday, April 18, and on the white board of my business law class wrote the phrase “In loco parentis,” which means “in the place of parents” in Latin. It is a doctrine that has certainly been weakened in colleges. The question is, what parental role if any do colleges give to their students? Some students stopped chatting and looked at the phrase and thought what does that mean? And when the class started, I said, “Some of you have heard about the Virginia Tech shootings and various responsibilities of various parties, so since this is a law class, let’s see if we can approach this in a legal way.”
Many people questioned whether the Virginia Tech administration should have told students and faculty when the initial shooting took place. And I asked, is it possible that the administrators didn’t want to worry them the same way that students feel like it’s not necessary to worry their parents when they get sick during school? We discussed that for a few minutes and then I told them I would like to have a voluntary moment of silence. I bowed my head, so I don’t know what students did. Then we started class.
A&M had Muster on Saturday the 21st, and on Sunday the 22nd, there was a long article in The Bryan-College Station Eagle that listed the names of all the people who were killed in the Virginia Tech shootings. It listed all the students, faculty, and so forth, and of course the shooter. So, I was thinking about that, and how the white elephant still seemed to be in the room. Then I thought, maybe we ought to have our own little mini-Muster during class and let A&M students remember the lives of those who died at Virginia Tech.
On Monday the 23rd, I made an overhead and put it up in my classroom. I basically divided it up into undergrads, grads, and faculty, and then the last person I put on there was the shooter. And the students came in, with some curiousness, thinking what is that? I said, “Ladies and gentlemen, these are the names of the 32 people that were killed at Virginia Tech.” And then it got real quiet.
When everybody was there I said, “One of the things that has always impressed me about Texas A&M is that you do a wonderful job of remembering and honoring those persons who have died. You did that last Saturday night at Muster, and now I think it’s appropriate for us to remember and honor the memories of those persons killed at Virginia Tech.” I said, “In just a moment, I’m going to read the names of all the people on the board and I would like you to pick out a name of somebody on that board and agree that you will remember them as if their name was read out at a Muster.”
I paused for a moment, and one student said, “Rather than just picking out one person, can we just speak for all of the people?” And I said, “That’s totally appropriate, if you’d like to do that; we can speak for all the people up there.”
I read the first person’s name, age, major and hometown, just as it had appeared in The Eagle, and then I paused. Then people began to speak for them. It wasn’t like the whole class hopped up and yelled “Here!” at the top of their lungs. It was more reserved and almost reverential—it was quiet.
I said that I would take the shooter, because I knew that they were wondering what would happen when we got to that point. We read all the names and the students kept responding, and when we got to the shooter I said, “The last person who died was Cho Seung-Hui. May God have mercy on his soul.” And then we paused.
At that point I said, “You guys have got your cell phones, right? I want you to pick up your cell phones and call your mom or your dad. In just a minute, call them and tell them that this crazy professor told you to call and just tell them that you love them.” So all of a sudden you had this cacophonous sound of 40 people all in different parts of conversation, and bits and pieces that I got were essentially “Hi mom or dad, I’m calling you from class. There’s nothing wrong, but my professor encouraged us to call you because we’ve just been talking about Virginia Tech and I just wanted to let you know that I love you.”
I didn’t look at anybody. I just looked down at the floor and just kinda listened like I was a fly on the wall, you know. And then after a couple minutes we started class. I did the same type thing in my commercial real estate law class, but I felt like it was more striking in the other class because there are three times as many people.
So, I think our mini-Muster facilitated discussion between the students and their parents about the event. And maybe that was one of the most valuable things about the entire event. Without trying to sound too cute, I wonder, did the Aggie tradition of Muster, our mini-Muster and the Aggie tradition of Elephant Walk not in some sense call attention to the white elephant that was in the room? There’s this white elephant in the room, and we dealt with it, just as seniors face a white elephant at Elephant Walk. Their white elephant is the realization that they are graduating, and that their college days will soon be over. Our white elephant was the fact that we could just as easily have been the victims.
I think these traditions alongside our mini-Muster may have helped us deal with our white elephant in the room. Everybody had their opinion that they wanted to talk about, but the students might have felt inhibited about how they could do that. So I’d like to think maybe they felt comfortable enough in my class to talk about it.