We Are Virginia Tech

James Geiger, a junior studying theatre performance, intended not to speak at all on Wednesday. Wearing a shirt that read Sometimes you must be silent in order to be heard, he was honoring GLSEN’s Day of Silence, a protest by the LGBT community which occurs annually on April 18th to silence the discrimination and harassment experienced by LGBT students and their allies. Geiger decided to break his vow for a moment and offered these words:

"Human suffering is not a good thing. We need to come together as a race and realize how precious life is. We need to appreciate each other. Love each other as a human beings"

Rose Pierre-Louis is a sophomore studying education. Like the rest of the country, she watched the events unfold throughout the week. "My heart literally dropped. I was scared to come to campus today. Puts a bit of worry in your mind." When asked if she had ever feared coming to school before, she answered: "After 9/11, I thought it was taken care of. No worries. But now, it has put a little bit of worry."

She's one of many who puts her faith in school being a safe place. “And God,” she said.

Pierre-Louis recently signed up for USF MoBull program, which sends text messages to registered cell phones in the event of an emergency.

Jeffrey Jackson is an active member of Greek Life and came to the vigil with a sense of loss for VT, as well as for other friends he's lost this year. Jackson said he’s never felt unsafe on campus, despite acknowledging that anything can happen anywhere. Jackson offered the possibility of more surveillance cameras on campus, citing security can't be every where all the time on the expansive campus.

He added that in his 3 years on campus, there had never been so much as a fire drill to prepare the students for emergency situations.

Lt. Meg Ross, a Public Information Officer with the University Police, said the overall sense of security that students feel on campus is a good thing, though “Safety is a relative term. We're here 24/7 hoping to protect them.”

Like an small city, USF has many crimes. “We have bike theft and book thieves. We're a microcosm of the rest of the world,” said Ross.

I asked if there were any emergency training or drills for students in the event of an emergency.

MR: "There are some programs in place. We [police] train for such an event, but every situation is different. To provide a plan for students to act on may not fit every situation…We have to rely on them to report things that they see, that their instincts say are just not right. And rely on the police to do what we can. This can't be prevented. This is something we just have to prepare for."

DM: What is the law regarding guns on campus?

MR: "It's a felony to have a firearm on campus. University Police will check in firearms if students feel the need to bring them from home. But if they bring one on campus, they will be arrested, even with a concealed weapon permit."

Gardner and 3 other Virginia Tech Alumni, including a USF professor, mustered up their game faces and some positive energy in front of the USF crowd of several hundred to close the vigil with a cheer to conjure up happier times and healing.

They instructed the left side to shout “Let’s Go!” The right, “Hokies!”

It was choked out the first time; it felt a little silly the second. But by the third, everyone was laughing. It was like a sigh of relief letting go of the breath being held since the news of the shooting first broke on Monday.

In times of a crisis, University of South Florida students can call the Victim Health line at 813 974-5757. All other Hillsborough county residents can find help by calling 211.

Photos by Aimee Blodgett of USF.

Jennifer Brack, adviser to USF’s student government, led the Virginia Tech vigil Wednesday afternoon on USF’s Tampa campus. ribbon

"What happened at VT defies logic, which can naturally create confusion and frustration. So we are joined today by those who can offer their services and support to any of you who can benefit. (Many different religions were represented on behalf of the Campus Ministry Association.)

At times like this, many of us feel helpless yet committed to offer support. VT acknowledges people around the world want ways of paying tribute. On their website, many have posted messages to the VT community. We welcome you to do the same. The University has also created the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund to support memorials, grief counseling and other support.” students signing banners to VT

Later Brack read from a speech VT Prof Nikki Giovanni gave at the convocation in Blacksburg, VA. Tuesday night. "'We are Virginia Tech, we are sad today and we will be sad for quite a while...We are better than we think. And not quite what we want to be. We will continue to invent the future. We are the Hokies. We will prevail. We are Virginia Tech.'"

VT Alum; photo by Aimee Blodgett/USFJohn Gardner of Valrico was one of the first to show up for the vigil, wearing a Chicago maroon-colored dress shirt and a necktie striped with burnt orange and the same shade of red. He moved to Tampa 20 years ago, right after graduating from Virginia Tech.

Immediately I wanted to approach him because of the festive school colors, not to mention he was one of the first arrivals, silently milling about. But I passed him, hesitating whether to keep walking or not. He was noticeably saddened, pacing, and I didn't stop. A few minutes later, I collected the courage to approach him, now sitting on a bench behind dark glasses. Gently I asked if he felt like speaking with me. He agreed amiably, but couldn’t give me more than a sentence before he was overcome by his grief.

He managed to compliment USF on the organization of the vigil before politely ending our interview.

I didn't interview anyone else with such a personal connection to VT, or one fighting so hard to keep the tears at bay. Regardless, the students who began filling up the lawn were contemplative, reserved, yet eager to give me their input on the events at VT, each acknowledging that it could have as easily happened here.

Maja Lacevic, a sophomore from Bosnia, volunteered at the vigil, offering students cards to write well wishes that would be sent to the Virginia Tech community. "Every time I hear about violence around the world, it’s always a little bit of a shock. I came to America to escape all that stuff.”

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