In the perpetual cycle of U.S. school shootings, are media to blame?

Photo via Twitter screen-grab

This morning, another report of an active shooter on a college campus was issued, this time at Ohio State University. Although it does not appear guns were used in the attack, the suspect allegedly drove a vehicle into a crowd of students and used a butcher’s knife to stab several nearby individuals. By the afternoon, 9 people were in the hospital with injuries, and the suspect was dead.

The U.S. has been no stranger to school shootings. A 2013 article by the Harvard Political Review laid out some recent statistics that demonstrate the dichotomy between the U.S. and other countries in terms of frequency of these incidents:

“Between November 1, 1991 and July 16, 2013, there were 55 school shootings in America with at least one fatality and more than one intended victim. In the same time period, no other country had more than three such shootings.”

Why does the U.S. see so much violence in schools? One factor may be the “copycat effect” that the U.S. media seems to perpetuate by celebritizing assailants and minimizing victims through selective coverage. An article by the Denver Post highlighted the Virginia Tech school shooter’s obsession with Columbine High School shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. According to the report, Seung-Hui Cho referred to Harris and Klebold as “martyrs” in a media package he sent to NBC News shortly before the shooting. Just as the assailant, who fatally shot 32 students, intended, the media aired regular coverage of his homemade confession videos following the 2007 shooting.

2014 Seattle Pacific University shooter Aaron Ybarra was reportedly inspired by coverage of the Columbine shooters, as well as by Seung-Hui Cho. “He just made everything so exciting. He made hate so exciting,” Ybarra said in reference to Harris during a police interrogation, according to Daily News.

It seems, then, that the media should hold a certain responsibility in the way they chose to report on these tragedies. According to an article from Newsweek, there are several steps that reporters and news anchors can take to minimize potential copycat incidents.

“Be careful about rushing out with unconfirmed or early information or social media rumors, which turn out to be inaccurate or which will propagate myths,” said Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, in an interview with Newsweek. Shapiro also added that journalists should keep the post-mortem dignity of victims in mind when selecting images to accompany their reports. In addition, the Newsweek article advises against glorifying the shooter.

“To reduce copycats and lionizing, reporters have a special responsibility to portray with precision and accuracy the estrangement of these perpetrators, and to scrupulously avoid language or images that could romanticize their actions,” said Shapiro and Dr. Frank Ochberg.

Anderson Cooper took a similar approach in 2012 when he prefaced his report on the Aurora, Colorado theater shooter James Holmes:

“Before we go any further, I just want to say that I’m only going to mention the alleged shooter’s name a few times over the course of this next hour. Too often after a shooting like this the killer’s name becomes well known, and months, even years later, the killer’s name is recalled, but the victims’, the survivors’ names are not. I think that’s wrong.”

Perhaps Anderson’s approach should become the norm in covering these tragic events.


A Quick Reflection on UC Berkeley’s Fraternity Party Consent Talks

Photo (cc) Laura Bittner

The University of California Berkeley has lifted its ban on parties on the condition that there now be sobriety moniters and consent talks at the doors of parties, according to an article by the Associated Press. The parties had previously been suspended after the University’s Greek system enforced a voluntary ban in response to incidents in which two students reported being assaulted at fraternity parties.

However, an article by Campus Reform appeared to be a bit skeptical of these new party provisions. According to the site, party-goers may enter the UC Berkeley fraternity houses on the conditions that they, ” … endure a two-minute ‘consent talk’ before being admitted to any Greek life party, during which they can expect to be surveilled by at least three ‘sober monitors’ responsible for ensuring decorum.” It is important to note that there is a difference between educating college students on the importance of consent as a basic human right and forcing them to “endure” a conversation about consent, as Campus Reform reports.

Meghan Warner, a recent Berkeley graduate and former co-chair of the Greeks Against Sexual Assault student organization told Campus Reform that while the new rules were a “step in the right direction,” she didn’t foresee real change. “These changes sound like they’re going to make a difference, but I don’t really have faith that they’re actually going to enact them,” she said.

We’ll see in the coming weeks if these provisions will be effective or even strictly implemented. But the fact that the school appears to have recognized that the issue of campus assault will not disappear with after-the-fact bans, rather through preventative measures.

College Domestic Abuse Issues Matter

Photo by Christie Macomber

October is national Domestic Abuse Awareness Month. Domestic abuse in college relationships has an often-unspoken presence. Every year, thousands of sexual assaults and instances of violence go unreported on college campuses. Statistically, college-age girls are the ones who should be talking about this issue the most, according to Feminist Campus, “young women between the ages 16-24 experience the highest rate of partner violence and it’s almost triple the national average.”

So, why is there such a lack of visible resources and outlets available at many universities? Dana Bolger, co-founder of activist group Know Your IX, believes it is because colleges don’t know enough about the issue or a plan of remedy. “Schools are totally lost on how to respond to violence when it occurs in the context of a dating relationship,” she said in an interview with Buzzfeed.

A major issue with how colleges handle issues of sexual assault and domestic violence is in how they administer (or choose not to administer) punishments. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz explained to Buzzfeed that by relying on university conduct policies instead of reporting the abuses to actual courts, there is an ignorance of true justice for victims, “Universities have proved beyond any doubt their incapacity and ineptitude in dealing with nuanced, fact-based accusations.”

Know your rights:

Title IX: Title IX requires universities to combat gender-based violence and harassment, and ensure victims’ needs are met. It also compels universities to ensure equal educational rights to all students.

The Clercy Act: According to Know Your IX, as of Oct. 1, 2014, universities are required to make the following statistics public: reports of dating violence, domestic violence and stalking.

If you are a victim of sexual or domestic assault and your school has not responded to your needs, you can file a Title IX complaint against your university’s policies with the U.S. Department of Education.