One of the most tragic events in Purdue history occurred on October 16 when a residence hall counselor was shot to death by another student, who then took his own life. The deaths of Jay Severson and Jarrod Eskew shook our University to its foundations.
Violence of this nature is all too common in American society, but when it suddenly intrudes into the normally peaceful environs of a campus like ours, it shatters the sense of security that we usually take for granted. Reporters and camera crews from the major media descended on West Lafayette to ask: "How could this happen here?" and "Do you feel unsafe now?" and "Is this a symptom of some deeper problem?"
We are still dealing with those questions and will continue to do so for some time, but it is important to remember that the incident was shocking, terrifying, and worthy of national attention precisely because it happened at a place where violence is so unusual.
Like all University administrators, I struggle with a mixed message when it comes to campus safety. I want everyone to feel secure here, so that we can focus on the academic and social aspects of the collegiate experience and allow our students to get the most from their time at Purdue. I treasure the freedom and openness that characterizes our campuses. On the other hand, we must understand that we are not isolated from the problems of the larger society. Each of us has to accept some of the responsibility for his or her own safety. We have at least 50,000 people on campus daily. Inevitably, we will experience social problems, crime, accidents and violence. Drug and alcohol abuse are present here, as they are at all large institutions.
The tragedy of October 16 was a brutal reminder of those realities, and it forced us to take stock of our world. As the shock passes and we emerge from the grieving process, good sense will lead us to several conclusions:
We will never answer all the questions, and we will never be the same again, but we can learn something. I hope that when the healing is done, we will be stronger.
Steven C. Beering
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