In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, committed by a student who fantasized about death in his short stories, university professors are reporting “dark writing,” reports the Wall Street Journal. But it’s very difficult to tell who’s really a threat.
. . . some experts worry that these measures pose legal or ethical risks. Psychologists caution that it is nearly impossible to predict future violence. Professors are being asked to do something for which they are untrained — assess a work for signs of a troubled psyche.
At the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, creative-writing student Steven Barber wrote a first-person story about a creative-writing student contemplating murder or suicide. Instructor Christopher Scalia, alarmed that the story’s instructor was named Mr. Christopher, called the administration. (The instructor is Justice Scalia’s son.) A search of Barber’s car found three guns; the Navy vet has a concealed carry permit, but the college bans guns on campus. Barber was committed to a psychiatric institution for a weekend, where psychiatrists concluded he was sane and posed no threat. A few days later, he was expelled.
At Valdosta State in Georgia, T. Hayden Barnes created a collage that he posted on his Facebook page protesting plans to build what he called the “Zaccari Memorial Parking Garage.”
On May 7, 2007, Mr. Barnes, then a junior, found a letter from President Zaccari under his dorm-room door saying that Mr. Barnes presented “a clear and present danger” and that he had been expelled. Attached was a copy of his collage.
In order to apply for readmission, the letter said, Mr. Barnes would need to present correspondence from a psychiatrist indicating that he wasn’t a danger to himself or others, as well as documentation proving he would receive therapy during his tenure at school.
Barnes appealed the expulsion and was reinstated without explanation.
Barber, a 3.9 student at Wise, also appealed his expulsion but was turned down. At his next college, he plans to write about rainbows and puppies.