The shootings at Virginia Tech have sparked a nationwide debate about creative writing classes and whether the college heeded warning signs from Cho Seung-Hui’s writing professors. Some feel that creative writing instructors are expected to identify students at risk.
When I teach workshops, I try to create a “safe zone” for students so they feel free to experiment. Granted, my college students tend to write about what happened at the lame frat party the night before, but I wouldn’t want them to feel that I am judging their mental faculties as I’m reading their stories. I think that Cho’s writing professors may have been more alarmed by the fact that Cho’s violent writing was coupled with anti-social behavior.
I wasn’t surprised that the creative writing community at Virginia Tech became actively involved in trying to help the shooter. Writing instructors get to know their students on a more personal level, so the writing community may be the first to detect when students are troubled. I’ve had students come to me during office hours to discuss a recent loss of a sibling or to tell me about an illness in the family. One student told me that he nearly died the year before when a deranged homeless person stabbed him at a college party. These are issues that seldom come up in Chemistry class.
Perhaps it may be helpful for creative writing professors to undergo some sort of counseling training, or would that be asking too much? Do you think that the Virginia Tech tragedy will change the way people teach creative writing? Do you think that this will change writing workshops? Will students still feel free to express themselves?