Violence demands a real examination of culture

In the past week we have all been completely inundated with information regarding the Virginia Tech occurrence. I am sure each student here has been affected in varying ways. Personally, I have been affected by the tragedy at many different levels.

I am affected as an individual who was horrified and stunned upon learning of the tragedy. I am affected as a student on a college campus that President Dahl described as being of a similar peaceful setting and location to Virginia Tech. I am also affected as a Korean-American and as a psychology major and sociology minor. The social implications of this tragedy are incredibly significant.

Each day I feel I am exposed to another part of the Korean culture to which I was ignorant before. It is extremely frustrating - even though I am learning and incorporating information, I feel that I will never quite completely understand and identify with that information. In a series of extensive articles from the New York Times on the shootings, one outlined the reaction of the Korean-American population. Those interviewed apologized personally for the Seung-Hui's actions which caused 33 deaths, suggesting that they were in some way responsible for what happened.

Growing up in a completely individualistic country has given me the privilege to disregard more collective viewpoints that focus on the good of the whole instead of the advancement of the individual. Even as I read about their beliefs, I couldn't grasp an understanding of the personal responsibility that they felt or the fact that they viewed Seung-Hui not just as an individual but, as a representation of their country.

In the same New York Times article, Korean culture and psychological illnesses were discussed. It is suggested that Korean culture does not recognize mental illness because it is so stigmatized. According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, Asian Americans are less likely to seek help for mental illnesses than any other ethnic group. Also the study found that Asians born in the United States and those who immigrated as children had higher rates of mental disorders, especially depression, than Asians who immigrated to the United States as adults. As a psychology major, I feel even more affected by this information regarding Korean Americans and the fact that Seung-Hui was Korean.

I have been reading articles and listening to news reports frequently since the occurrence, paying close attention to how the event is being framed and how Seung-Hui is being portrayed. He has been described as crazy, troubled, and insane. Classmates suggest that he must have been severely messed up in order to commit such a cold blooded and inhumane crime. If the reasons for why he did what he did arise, they are easily attributed to the fact that he was mentally unstable and had made threats previous to the occurrence. But what if there is important and valuable information being left out of this particular schema that suggests all that needs to be known is that a troubled youth just couldn't bare his own anguish any longer?

The reasons that why Seung-Hui committed such a crime may have nothing to do with his status as an international student, or a Korean American, or it might have everything to do with it. Perhaps his identity was conflicted because of America's image of an ideal man who is tough and strong and all of these hyper-masculine things, and we need to think about a society in which gun crimes are the highest in the world, before we think about blaming his ethnic identity. Maybe none of these reasons are correct and it really was only attributed to his mental state. Still, it's important to consider all of the angles and to recognize that there are social and societal implications to these occurrences.

If we shrug off Seung-Hui's reasons for doing what he did to his mental instability, specifically a chemical or hormonal imbalance before considering any other implications, it suggests that what occurred couldn't have been prevented in any way. Of course it is always easier to not take responsibility for the actions of those who may have a mental disorder because even after rigorous interventions including therapy or medication, there still might not be any changes.

I am not suggesting that blame should be attributed to his classmates, professors, or even Virginia Tech in any way but rather that an examination of society in general be necessary. Trying to solve problems after they occur often seems like the proper approach. How much does the framing change however, if we look much further ahead in order to recognize and understand the beginnings of the issues and societal implications that attribute to mental disorders in the first place?