JO - Jamaicans say Virginia Tech shooting hasn't changed decision to study in US
Jamaicans say Virginia Tech shooting hasn't changed decision to study in US
BY TYRONE S REID Sunday Observer staff reporter
Sunday, May 13, 2007
EVERY August, sometimes earlier, scores of Jamaicans pack their suitcases and head off to college and university campuses in the United States to begin studies.
MITCHELL... while there is an underlying concern, it is not dominant
Most students view acceptance to an American university as the opportunity of a lifetime. But two recent developments in the United States have caused many students worldwide to stop and reconsider: the recent massacre at Virginia Tech (the deadliest gun rampage in recent US history) where a student gunman shot and killed 32 students and faculty members and then turned his weapon on himself, and study/survey findings which show that there has been an increase in the number of mentally ill students enrolled in US colleges and universities. Locally, a number of teachers, students and parents have been expressing mixed views about what these recent developments mean for Jamaicans who will go off to study in the US in a few months.
Dr Dennis Minott, whose A-QUEST programme has been helping Jamaican students get into US colleges and universities for years, has thrown cold water on arguments that parents should start rethinking sending their children to study in the US. Minott believes it would be unwise for any Jamaican parent whose child has been accepted to study at a university for the upcoming academic year to withdraw that child out of fear.
"First of all, I have not heard any parent raising any concern so far. What is happening in the United States is rather unusual. With colleges and universities in the United States, you are going to find situations that are not usually the norm. But colleges in the US take security issues very seriously. They are some of the safest in the world. What happened at Virginia Tech was rather unfortunate," Minott argued.
"If the parents were sending their children to Iraq to study that is when I would tell them to be concerned but sending them to study in the United States, in my opinion, raises no great cause for concern," Minott said.
But while these students may not be going off to a war zone to study, a recent report carried by the Associated Press (AP) [April 19, 2007] raises some mental health concerns among students that should not be ignored.
GRIFFITHS... I am more concerned about a national attack on the US
According to the report, the reasons for the surge in the number of mentally ill students in American tertiary institutions can be traced to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which gives students with mental disorders the right to attend college, and the use of "increasingly sophisticated medications" that enables these troubled students to "function better" than in the past.
A new survey conducted by the American College Health Association found that 8.5 per cent of students had seriously considered suicide, 15 per cent were diagnosed with depression, up from 10 per cent in 2000. At the same time, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, 13 per cent of students at major universities and 25 per cent at liberal arts colleges are using campus mental health institutions.
Further research done by the Kansas State University reveals that students' mental health problems are more complex than 20 years ago. But in addressing matters regarding the mental health of students, campus administrators have to tread carefully due to the dozens of laws and policies that set out the rights and privacy of students.
Many will remember how the world was jolted by the Columbine High School massacre in Jefferson County, Colorado, carried out on April 20, 1999, by two teenage students who shot to death 12 students and a teacher and wounded 24 others before committing suicide. There was also the 1966 University of Texas massacre, where a student sniper shot and killed 13 people and wounded 31 others from atop the school's 27-storey tower.
He was later killed by police. And recently, there was the mass killing at Virginia Tech. Among the victims were 32-year-old Egyptian grad student Waleed Mohammad Shaalan, who was reportedly killed while trying to save another student, and 26-year-old engineering student Juan Ramon Ortiz from Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
Cher Griffiths, a 19-year-old student of Wolmer's Girls who leaves for orientation at Middlebury College in Vermont in August, says she and her grandmother, Mercella Wan, have been considering the issue of safety, but says their concerns are more focused on another possible terrorist attack on the United States than a repeat of the Virginia Tech massacre.
"I have thought about it, but I am more concerned about a situation like 9/11 happening while I am in the US. I am not really worried that one of the students from the school community will flip out and shoot up the whole school. I am more concerned about a national attack," Griffiths told the Sunday Observer.
"That is what I am really concerned about because the United States has so many enemies." Griffiths, who won a scholarship to study at Middlebury, has also been offered a laptop grant by the school, assistance with travel expenses and a large aid package which includes a job offer, a grant and a loan.
Merna James, whose 19-year-old son, Jayvan Mitchell of Manning's High, received a US$50,000 scholarship to study at the elite Wesleyan University in Connecticut, says while she is worried about her son's safety, she is hoping for the best."When I saw what happened [at Virginia Tech] on the news, I started to worry because it could happen again, and somewhere else. I am a bit concerned about it but I wouldn't withdraw my son's application. I will just have to hope and pray for the best," she said.
Mitchell, who is the head boy of Manning's High, told the Sunday Observer that he is focused on making the best use of the opportunity he has been afforded."The US is a big place. I don't think one or two isolated incidents should be used to judge the entire education system. I have done my research and while there is an underlying concern, it is not dominant," said Mitchell, who was also on the waiting list for Yale, one of the top three Ivy League institutions in the United States.
But guidance counsellor at Campion College, Karen Beckford, believes there is cause for concern, and says parents and students should ensure that they properly investigate their prospective schools until they are satisfied, before enrolling."We keep telling our students who plan to go abroad to study to properly investigate and get as much information about the prospective schools as possible. We also encourage them to visit the school with their parents in the summer, if possible, because we shouldn't take certain things for granted," Beckford said. "The reality can be different from what you get on the website. You should also try to find out what the accommodations and programmes for international students are like because support-based programmes are very important for foreign students."
In the meantime, Beckford, who has also worked at Wolmer's Girls, noted that now, more than ever, regional tertiary institutions should start re-evaluating their approach and standards as year after year more and more high school graduates are opting to pursue higher education abroad."It is very important for our local tertiary institutions to realise that their programmes need to be enriched because many students complain that the local system does not help them to grow into their chosen professions. There is greater flexibility in the US and the students are able to work more closely with their professors," Beckford explained.
"Forty per cent of our graduating class is choosing to go away to study. That should indicate that there is a deeper issue here and we need to examine it because many of them who go away say they will return.
But when they begin internship at some big corporation and are doing well, the companies will want to keep them and so the chance of them returning is reduced. There has been a breakdown somewhere, and we need to see what can be done to prevent so many of our good students from leaving us because there is no place like home," Beckford added.