For the Hokies - ETSU event held in support of Virginia Tech
By Sam Watson
Press Education Writer
Buccaneer blue and gold gave way to Hokie maroon and orange Tuesday as East Tennessee State University sent messages of support to Virginia Tech in the wake of last week’s massacre.
Hundreds of students and employees gathered on ETSU’s Borchuck Plaza for a noon service, many donning maroon and orange ribbons and signing banners in a show of solidarity for their peers in Blacksburg, Va.
“We’re just really reaching our hearts out to everyone over there at Virginia Tech,” said Justin Mitchell, an ETSU junior from Memphis. “It’s a really good healing exercise for us, as well, and all American college students across the United States.”
On April 16, Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and faculty members and injured several others in a rampage that sent a chill through college campuses across the country. The tragedy hit particularly close to home at ETSU, an institution located just 150 miles away from Blacksburg.
Many students on the Johnson City campus have friends at Virginia Tech or other ties there, and ETSU employs several Virginia Tech alumni, including Mark Musick, holder of ETSU’s Quillen Chair of Excellence in Teaching and Learning, who led Tuesday’s service alongside ETSU President Paul Stanton.
Also on the plaza Tuesday was Virginia Tech graduate Dr. Sally Lee, ETSU associate vice president for student affairs.
“As an alum, I am appreciative of the response on behalf of my institution,” Lee said as Virginia Tech symbols dangled from her ears. “The outpouring for Virginia Tech from other institutions has been amazing.”
As a student at Virginia Tech, Lee was a resident adviser in West Ambler Johnston Hall, the site where Cho began his attack by killing students Ryan Clark and Emily Hilscher. Last week’s events forever changed Lee’s perspective about her old dorm.
“I can tell you pretty much exactly where that young lady and that RA were murdered because of the way that building is configured uniquely,” she said. “That has an impact.”
The massacre also changed perspectives for some ETSU students.
“For our students here, there’s a lot of sorrow and a lot of understanding of the lost innocence and the impact it will have on that school,” Lee said. “So, I think it’s good for our students to have an outlet for their own emotions.”
To Mitchell, knowing that students his own age were killed doing the same things he does every day — attending classes — was scary.
“It hurts. We really feel that,” he said. “Maybe we can create more awareness so that everybody can lend a helping hand to those who feel alone, so they don’t feel they have to kill.”
As ETSU students signed a sheet that will form part of a memorial quilt for Virginia Tech, Mitchell wrote just three words: “Cho was wrong.”
“I believe that they (Virginia Tech students) feel just as strongly as we do that people who are loners and outsiders should not feel as pressed against,” Mitchell said. “Maybe if you are ostracized and feel that you are alone, you won’t lash out against society.”
ETSU sophomore Deanna Stamper, an elementary education major from Kingsport, brought the sheet to campus as part of a national project organized by Alpha Phi Omega, a community service organization.
“I really wanted to do it, because I have two very special friends there (at Virginia Tech) in the engineering program. Luckily, they were away at the time on a competition,” Stamper said. “I know that many students want to find a way to send love to them, and this to me is a great way to do it.
“I think it gives great faith back to our nation to see how strong these young people can be through this.”
Wearing Virginia Tech athletic jerseys, ETSU senior Sara Shaffer and her sister in law, Bernadette Cash, signed the sheet to send messages to a campus Shaffer has known since childhood via athletic events.
“It’s awfully close to home,” Shaffer said. “My dad went to Virginia Tech. Our whole family has been going to Blacksburg since before I was even born. We’re all Hokies.”