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School shootings. It’s a shame that they are part of our lives as we know it and they have happened and will continue to occur unless we do something about it. Different groups and universities within our great nation have expressed their concerns and ideas on how to counter this “epidemic” of sorts. Authors like Brett A. Sokolow were on the scene as soon as possible, communicating what he thinks should happen in response to such horrific events. Sokolow is the author of “How Not to Respond to Virginia Tech- II” and is also the founder, president and CEO of The NCHERM Group, LLC, which is a national multidisciplinary risk management consulting and law firm with more than 3,000 clients[NCH).
In this very successful essay, he reflects on what happened at the Virginia Tech shooting, and in response he shares what he believes needs to happen in order for schools and universities to feel safer and more protected from violence, and how to raise awareness of mental illnesses and health to help those that are sick to prevent such occurrences.
Sokolow is somewhat seen as the “safety Guru” of schools and colleges nationwide, mostly due to his leadership on system level solutions for safer schools and campuses. He serves as an advisor to over 60 colleges and universities nationwide and serves as founder for NaBITA (The National Behavioral Intervention Team Association) and SCOPE (the School and College Organization for Prevention Educators) foundations. He has been interviewed by many media outlets and has served hundreds of seminars on strategic prevention of violence for colleges and universities [NCH].
So you could say his sense of authority (Ethos) is prominent in all of his work and is very popular throughout the nation. He wrote this essay for Inside Higher Ed, which is an online college and university publication company. On April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people on the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University campus in Blacksburg Virginia, then proceeded to take his own, young life.
Sokolow’s essay was written in response to what (at the time) was the worst mass shooting in America’s history. His essay was written just weeks after the shooting occurred, so we can expect that part of his audience is still sensitive to the information he provides. Imagine the families of the young adults involved in this massacre, and how they must feel: furious at the shooter and perhaps even at the school who “could have done better to protect our children”. Petrified at what could happen next. Mourning because of the loss of such young, beautiful lives. The rest of the student body, faculty, and professors must have been in shock and still horrified of returning to classes and going about their day, living in fear of another attack. However, if the essay had been written a year or 6 months later, his audience would have different feelings towards his essay. They would probably have been less emotion oriented and would have more logical thoughts towards Sokolow’s essay. The majority of the essay focuses on what other schools and universities wanted to do to protect their schools after the tragedy that occurred at Virginia Tech. And to be honest most of their suggestions are ruled by panic-stricken emotions, which can cause a lot of hasty decision making.
For example, some colleges wanted to install text-message-based warning systems that would notify everyone on campus when something bad is going to happen. Sokolow points out some very obvious flaws to this system, the first being that (at this point in time) not everyone had cell phones and everyone is entitled to their privacy -no one should be forced to sign up for it. He says, “You could argue that students are flocking to sign up for this service on campuses that currently provide it, but that is driven off the panic of current events. Next fall, when the shock has worn off, apathy will inevitably return, and voluntary sign-up rates will drop” (pg. 611). Even if the schools mandated students to sign up, who would be in charge of it all?
Too much money would be involved at that point, eaten up by supporting an entire full time staff to hound down the students, input all the information, support the system and system failures as well. Not to mention that texting is impractical. Like Sokolow says “(texting is ) useless on the field for athletes, while students are swimming, sleeping, showering, etc.” (pg. 612). It could also be a double edged sword by texting the “psychopath who is also signed up for the system, telling him exactly what administrators know (etc…)” (pg. 612). Too much energy would be spent, including time and money, and it would be so risky to pull off. Although Sokolow makes a logical point here, he also needs to provide some more insight on the opposite side. If I were a mother who had just lost her child in such a horrific way, I would without a doubt agree with installing such a system. He appeals more to logos than to pathos in this sense. Sokolow also provides a better option as opposed to the texting system. He states, “we should consider installing loudspeakers throughout campus” (pg. 612. Not only is it more cost effective, it is easier to maintain and manage, and he mentions that Virginia Tech put it to good use during their shooting. He ends this bold paragraph with a quote that will be repeated throughout the essay, “we need to spend this time, money, and effort on the real problem: mental health” (pg. 612).
Right after that, Sokolow mentions that some schools wanted to perform criminal background checks on their incoming students (CBCs). He states that the disadvantages weigh out the advantages in this case, mostly because the majority of incoming students who have criminal backgrounds “were minors when they committed their crimes, and their records may have been sealed or expunged” (pg. 612). Sokolow points out that if the population majority of a school was not aged 18 to 22, the national average, then CBCs could obviously reveal more. He uses logos a lot throughout this paragraph, reasoning that “if you perform a check on all incoming students and the school across the street does not, the student with the criminal background will apply there and not to you” (pg. 612). He also points out that this is another expensive way of handling things (over 80$ per student) and it is very time consuming.
Yet again, he uses his appeal to logos and not enough to pathos, although he does repeat the same quote, “we need to spend this time, money, and effort on the real problem: mental health” (pg. 612). He is definitely using emphasis on this sentence to provide a sense of emotion, especially to mental health providers on campuses who may want to be led by a very well-known figure like Sokolow and perhaps seek some insight on what they can do to better their health services. In addition to all these logical arguments, he mentions the fact that some schools want to allow students to install their own locks on dormitory doors. He is strongly against this and with good reason! Sokolow states, “if we let students change their locks, residential life and campus law enforcement will not be able to key into student rooms when they overdose on alcohol or try to commit suicide” (pg. 612).
Not only is this statement ethical, but it really shines on Sokolow’s use of logos. The next topic that Sokolow touches upon is the fact that the lockdown procedure is extremely flawed. He believes in establishing a lockdown protocol that is more specific to certain threats, such as shooters and mass murders, to better protect such communities. He says, “if lockdowns are just a random response, they have the potential to lock students in with a still unidentified perpetrator” (pg. 613). Again, he uses logos to persuade the audience (in this case maybe faculty and campus reps) and he also touches upon the fact that Virginia Tech, in response to the mass murderer, exiled everyone out of the building rather than keeping them inside. It was based on the assumption that it’s less likely for a killer to open fire on a group of students as they flee from a building rather than the high risk of being inside the building like sitting ducks. Since then, there have been programs like A.L.I.C.E (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) that pride themselves in this type of protocol, rather than staying inside the building.
I actually got to experience A.L.I.C.E in action at my high school the past few years, and it has made a very big change in the way I see lockdowns now. Because I have seen such potential in a program like this, I wholeheartedly agree with what Sokolow has to say. His argument is logical, and touches upon my experience as well so I feel like it had some emotional aspect to readers whom have experienced such a program or to those who have been in a real lock down situation and realized that it would be better to follow such protocol. Reaching the end of his essay, Sokolow touches upon a topic that is quite controversial. He does not agree with the fact that some campuses now have an open carry-gun laws. He states, “many pro-gun advocates have talked about the deterrent and defense values of a well-armed student body, but none of them have mentioned the potential collateral criminal consequences of armed students: increases in armed robbery, muggings, escalation of interpersonal and relationship violence, etc…” (pg. 613). Yet again, his use of logos is most prominent in his argument. If I were to analyze this quote further, I would say that Sokolow really needs to appeal to the audience’s pathos. He provided a statement that is very factual and defensive, rather than understanding and empathetic – which is what you want from a pathos inspired argument.
However, in the essay “Guns Don’t Belong in the Hands of Administrators, Professors, or Students”, Jesus M. Villahermosa JR. has a very authoritative, interpersonal, emotion inspired argument. He has been a deputy sheriff for over 20 years, and was the first master defensive tactics instructor for law-enforcement personnel in the state of Washington. He has also served as a firearms instructor and served on his county’s SWAT team. So you could say his appeal to authority is very strong just like Sokolow’s. Yet unlike Sokolow, Villahermosa lists a lot of different points that appeal to the audience’s emotions, like “will faculty and staff members be prepared to kill another person, someone who may be as young as a teenager?” (pg. 616) Not only is this a terrifying thought, it is sad that this is what the world has come to. It’s the harsh reality.
On top of that, Villahermosa touches upon how he feels about being committed as a law-enforcement officer. He says, “We (law-enforcement officers) have made a commitment to train relentlessly and to die, if we have to, in order to protect others.” (pg. 617) This powerful statement definitely hits home. It touches upon the fact that the audience needs to have some faith and trust in our law-enforcement (pathos). If Sokolow had used more pathos in his argument, specifically so the audience gains trust in him, he should talk more about a personal experience like Villahermosa did. In his essay, Sokolow repeated the phrase “we need to focus our attention on the real issue: mental health” (pg. 613) His last argument touches upon the fact that excluding students whom suffer from mental health conditions from attending a university, and how we should come up with different options for dealing with troubled students rather than ignoring the fact that they need help.
He states, “the Virginia Tech shooter was schizophrenic or mildly autistic, and identifying those disabilities early on and providing support, accommodation – and potentially intervention – is our issue” (pg. 613). He then follows with an excellent example; the University of South Carolina has a Behavioral Intervention Team that identifies students at risk and communicate with them to enhance their safety and the campus’ safety. He hopes that, “many campuses are considering a model designed to help raise flags for early screening and intervention” (pg. 614) and he hopes that these models along with helpful staff can help prevent such tragedies. Sokolow also appeals to students who may be reading this by stating, “many students are loners, isolated, withdrawn, pierced, tattooed, dyed, Wiccan, skate rats, fantasy gamers, or others outside the ‘main stream’.
This variety enlivens the richness of college campuses… Their preferences and differences cannot and should not be cause for fearing them or suspecting them” (pg. 614). This incredibly deep quote really teaches students that you cannot judge a book by its’ cover, and that you can’t assume you know a person’s life just by how they act or carry themselves. Things are rough all over. He uses his appeal to emotion prominently in these last few paragraphs, which is refreshing after a primarily logical argument. He ever-so kindly wraps up his argument with a valid point: “many randomly violent people exhibit a pattern of detectable disintegration of self, often linked to suicide” (pg. 614). I could not agree more. The main thing in this argument that Sokolow doesn’t do is support the opposing side. He could use more facts about this like which schools wanted to implement this texting system and if they had a direct cause, what is that cause? And if there had been any student surveys that have shown that students would sign up for it if there was such a system.
Or even appealing to different audiences – like people who are pro-gun – that could have improved his argument by looking at all sides of the argument, rather than what just he thinks is right. He doesn’t have any clear source or motive for writing this paper, other than the fact that these type of things are what his companies focus on and he felt compelled to respond to such a tragedy. If he had added a personal experience (like Villahermosa did) not only would he be appealing to the audience’s pathos, he would have a better reason to write this essay. Sokolow makes his opinions clear – after all this is his essay and his professional opinion is what matters to him. He believes that providing a measured response to this horrific event is what is necessary. He offers up his insight on the subject itself and he thinks what a lot of universities are implementing are not well- thought out and have been decided because the entire country was in a state of panic.
Throughout his essay, Sokolow focuses heavily on his appeal to logic versus his appeal to emotion. He uses various strategies to make sure that his audience knew what was wrong with the decisions being made by the different college campuses in response to the Virginia Tech shooting. Like I stated before, if he had used more pathos in his argument he would have won over more audiences (like mothers and fathers, and some students). He reflects on what occurred at the Virginia Tech shooting, and in response he shares what he believes needs to happen in order for schools and universities to feel safer and further protected from violence, and how to raise awareness of mental illnesses and health to help those that are sick to prevent such occurrences. Overall, I feel like his point of view on this subject is very respected (ethos) and people responded well.
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