Administrators contemplate security changes after VT deaths

Following last week’s shooting at Virginia Tech University, the administration at Harvard-Westlake is considering new methods of security and has discussed installing phones in every room with a speaker and a central location such as the reception desk. With these phones, teachers would be able to immediately notify security without dialing, Director of Inter-Campus Security Kevin Giberson said.

“I would be neglecting my job if I didn’t consider that [school shootings] could happen here,” Giberson said.

Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter who killed 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech last week, was described by his classmates as a loner who had past stalking transgressions, facts that school psychologist Luba Bek believe fit with the condition of Paranoid Personality Disorder, from which 4.4 percent of Americans suffer, according to Psychiatric News. Sufferers from PPD feel ostracized by their classmates and hold unjustified grudges against peers that may lead to an act of vengeance. Since the Virginia Tech shooting, students have heightened their awareness of how they treat their fellow peers.

“I try to always be cautious with how I treat people,” Jake Goren ’08 said. “But I think definitely when this just happened you kind of want to get on everybody’s good side and don’t want to piss someone off or have someone hold a grudge against you.”

Although Giberson assures that the campus is more than safe for students, there have been incidents in his eight years of working at the upper campus when the school “determined that it would be best for that person and the school, for them to go somewhere else.”

A few years ago, a male student was confronted and asked to leave when he would not stop stalking a female classmate. He cooperated, but a year later he returned to campus grounds.
When Giberson saw the former student by the front gate, he advised him to leave and reminded him that he could only come back with the approval of the school’s administration.
Giberson is used to turning down suspicious visitors who attempt to get on campus.
“We have turned away gang members,” Giberson said. “We have turned away some very shady people.”

Bek receives notice of alarming atypical student behavior from fellow students and faculty. If Bek perceives the student to be a potential menace to the community or themself, Bek recommends external counseling.

“The line blurs between someone who is an imminent threat to themself and others,” Bek said. “At that point they value life so little, not only do they not care about themselves, they don’t care for others.”
Faculty members are mandated to report students who may be injurious to themselves or others.  In accordance with this law, English teacher Martha Wheelock has identified students in need of help through troubling personal essays and other disturbing creative writing. Wheelock, who also teaches Ethics, believes “we need to be concerned about psy chological preparedness, create not a climate of fear, but cooperation.”

The moment a threat is reported, Giberson would get the “wheels in motion,” and immediately inform the faculty and other security guards on campus through the radio communication system. Currently, a modified fire alarm is used to notify students and faculty in a lockdown. A steady alarm means students go to the field, while short staccato blasts with pauses in between indicate that the students should go to the nearest room and lock the door.

However, students seem to be confused with the correct safety procedures.

“I think when you have so many people in one place at one time and it’s just kind of a mass chaos, I don’t think I would know what to do,” Goren ’08 said.

Dean Beth Slattery proposes more frequent training and learning the procedures in smaller groups “so that kids actually feel like they’re paying attention and that it is very clear what they need to be doing.”

“[The shooting] makes me think twice about my actions and that the repercussions of my actions can be bigger than I thought,” Sean Nadel ‘09 said. “Anything I say can push somebody over the edge.”