Campus responds to Va. Tech tragedy

Ally Taylor

In response to the tragedy at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the University is taking measures to offer condolences to those affected and provide support to the on-campus community. Students and others gathered for a memorial Mass in the St. Thomas of Villanova Church on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.

“It really says something that the church was completely filled on such short notice,” sophomore Michael Hallman said.

The high turnout at the Mass indicated how much the Villanova student body sympathizes with the Virginia Tech community.

“It always hits you so hard at first,” sophomore Natalie Jones said. “But this keeps happening … you almost become desensitized.”

At the Mass, students wrote prayers and messages of condolence in a book of prayers at the back of the church. The book, organized by Campus Ministry, is a part of a national effort by Catholic Campus Ministry Association to offer support and prayers, according to Beth Hassel, executive director of Campus Ministry. On Tuesday, Wednesday and today, Students were able to write messages in the book, which will then be sent to Virginia Tech tomorrow.

In addition, Campus Ministry and the Counseling Center have offered to send campus ministers and counselors to Virginia to help with grief counseling, Hassel said.

Support for students at Villanova is also available through both the Counseling Center and Campus Ministry.

“We also want to keep an eye on our students who, for whatever reason, are having a hard time with this,” Hassel said.

The Campus Ministry interns facilitated a discussion and prayer group focused specifically on the Virginia Tech tragedy last night as a part of their weekly 10-Spot program.

These efforts are in response to the shooting that took place at Virginia Tech on Monday, which resulted in 33 deaths and left approximately 30 students and faculty members injured.

On Tuesday afternoon, University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., posted a message on the front page of the University’s Web site in response to the situation. In the message, Donohue wrote, “We extend our deepest and most heartfelt condolences to everyone who was affected.”

Donohue’s message also discussed the security procedures in place on Villanova’s campus and provided a link to an explanation of the University’s crisis response procedure.

“Whenever the ongoing health and safety of the University community is at issue, senior officers of the University community are summoned immediately,” the policy read.

Debra Patch, associate director of Public Safety, described this initial string of communication.

“There is a University Emergency Preparedness Plan [which is] written and designed for any kind of emergency,” Patch said. This plan establishes the protocol of how the various administrators that comprise the Crisis Management Team are notified in the case of an emergency.

Once these administrators are summoned, they decide whether classes should be cancelled, whether a lockdown or evacuation is necessary or, most importantly, whether outside organizations, such as Radnor Police, the Radnor Fire Company or EMS, should be contacted.

“We may have our own command structure within the University that we follow initially … however, when an outside agency’s involved, they’d establish a command post,” Patch said.

This was the case in the Dec. 6 incident when a shooter fired shots near South Campus. Radnor Police was contacted and took control of the situation, establishing a command post with key Public Safety and University officials present.

The crisis response procedure Web site also described the methods of communication the University would utilize in the event of a crisis.

“Villanova University will use all available means of communication in an emergency – including telephone, the Web site and e-mail – and will implement on-site personal contacts through Public Safety officers, Resident Assistants and other University staff and officials,” the Web site said.

Pugh stressed the need for a “balance of speed and accuracy” in communicating with the community.

“You want to put out the correct information, but you don’t want to confuse,” he said.

After technical problems with e-mail notification during the December incident, officials have decided that the best way to inform the community of breaking news is through updating the University’s homepage, Pugh said.

“There’s always plans of how you would respond,” Pugh said, but he also noted that such an incident can never fully be predicted.

“No plan is perfect,” he said.

Pugh added that perhaps the most important form of deterrence is Villanova’s sense of community. He focused on how everyone on campus looks out for one another and notices when another student is in trouble, preventing harmful events from occurring in the first place.

“It’s like a built-in web we have,” he said.

Overall, the University has responded to the Virginia Tech tragedy with respect, sympathy and reflection.

“I think we all should be reminded maybe we all take things for granted,” Pugh said.

To commemorate, students are encouraged to wear orange and maroon tomorrow as part of a national effort to recognize the tragedy.