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Pre-2008 Posts

Nikki Giovanni on the Virginia Tech Shootings

Nikki Giovanni, a distinguished feminist poet, was one of the Virginia Tech shooter’s English profs.  She was concerned and disturbed by his behaviors, and at one point said she would quit teaching if he were not removed from her class.  His behavior had caused a creative writing class she was teaching to drop from about 70 to 7 students.  When Giovanni confronted Cho about his intimidating behaviors and asked him to stop, his response was, “You can’t make me.”

The above is a video of the poem she read to those assembled at Virginia Tech today.




13 thoughts on “Nikki Giovanni on the Virginia Tech Shootings

  1. I greatly admire and esteem NIkki Giovanni, her poetry, her life, and found her remarks strong and unwavering. But when it comes to deserving or not deserving to die, well, we all not only deserve to die, but will die. It is just a question of when.

    Do any of us deserve to die young? or live a long and healthy life? People so often ask “Why me?” or “Why us?” in times of adversity or illness or untimely death. My question, however, is “Why not me?” “Why not us?”

    Why should any of think that we are exempt?? Or should be exempt? Life is a beautiful, exciting, tortuous, and wonderful experience. It is a gift, but it does not last forever. So none of us is exempt. Not beauty nor talent nor wealth nor youth renders us invulnerable to the reaper’s scythe.

    Perhaps we should all keep that in mind, and instead of lamenting the adversities that life brings our way, consider instead what we have and how we shall use our gift of life each day, for as long as we hold it.

    Yes, is is always sad for us survivers when we lose a baby, a child, or a person in the prime of his or her life.

    Yet such people are no more exempt than the sturdy 100-year old, whose death we usually believe to be imminent.

    No, it is not a question of deserving to die. Wasn’t it the Clint Eastwood character in the film “Unforgiven” who said those profound words, when someone said to him on the death of another of the characters, “He deserved to die,” replied, “We all deserve to die?”

    I write this as a woman who is a breast cancer surviver. When I received my diagosis in 1994, my reaction was shock, but not shock at the discovery of a tiny malignant tumour, but shock that I should ever have believed that I would endlessly get cancer free results from my annual screenings.

    The biggest struggle I endured that week following the diagnosis was “Why did I ever think I was exempt? Why did I think my good health and cancer-fee genetics would render me immune?”

    If I had not harbored the belief that I was exempt, and that the screenings were done just to please my doc, my struggle with the diagnosis would have been much less severe.

    Fortunately, I was nonetheless one of the lucky ones, and am here in full health to write these comments 13 years later. Still, my good luck, my talents, my health do not render me exempt from my ultimate destiny.

    Rhoda Stewart
    Professor Emeritus English and Critical thinking
    Award-winning photograher

    Posted by Rhoda Stewart | April 18, 2007, 5:19 pm
  2. “Will” and “deserve” are not synonyms in my vocabulary.

    Posted by Sassafras | April 18, 2007, 5:44 pm
  3. People are talking about ways that this tragedy could have been averted. Some are saying stricter gun control; some are saying less gun control.

    I’ll tell you how it could have been averted; if they had LISTENED TO WOMEN.

    LISTEN to the women (at least two!) who complained that he was stalking them.
    LISTEN to the woman teacher (Ms. Giovanni) who threatened to quit rather than teach him.

    But no…if the only people who feel threatened by him are women, it’s not anything to be taken seriously.

    Gaah. Too much to say, no gift for words.

    Posted by Oni no Maggie | April 18, 2007, 5:58 pm
  4. Yeah, Oni no Maggie. Nikki Giovanni had to threaten to QUIT in order to get away from this guy (!), and then the head of the department, Lucinda… sorry, can’t recall her last name *tutored* the guy privately. She was scared and had a “code word” she gave to an assistant so that if she felt threatened by the guy, the assistant would call police.

    Believing women is good. Believing them BEFORE men hurt them or someone else!


    Posted by womensspace | April 18, 2007, 6:15 pm
  5. I’ll tell you how it could have been averted; if they had LISTENED TO WOMEN.

    Absolutely spot on.

    And another danger of this culture of women being ignored by men and those in “authority” is women being trained not to listen to their own instincts and instead learning to act according to the man’s interpretation of a situation.

    They (the woman) knows something is wrong, yet we are told so often not to make a fuss, to look for the best in people, to give men a chance, to take care of the man/men involved, or that it’s not that bad, over emotional women, over-reacting … so that women end up acting against their interests, and in harm’s way because of that as well.

    Posted by therealUK | April 18, 2007, 7:51 pm
  6. Spot on, Oni no Maggie.

    Posted by stormy | April 18, 2007, 9:06 pm
  7. In related news: have you seen the VT killer’s earlier writings? The ones that led him to counseling because they were so dark, angry and violent?

    They’re terrifying.

    Good post.

    Posted by Jeff Ventura | April 19, 2007, 3:49 pm
  8. I agree there’s an issue about women being listened to, but there is also an issue for me, as a woman professor, about when to speak, and what to say. I posted about this in more detail on my blog.

    Nikki Giovanni was lucky – she has tenure, she could afford to take a stand.

    Posted by whatladder | April 21, 2007, 4:18 am
  9. If we as a society took domestic violence seriously would two hours have elapsed while a crazed gunman who had already struck been free to roam on a campus of 25,000 students with no warning? I cringed as I kept hearing it repeated that nothing was done because they thought it was domestic violence. I cringed as I saw one paper with a photograph of the first woman shot with the headline “This is the face that sparked the shooting.” If we as a society took women seriously, would not two stalkings and the disruption of an entire class not been warning to be heeded?

    Posted by A. Moss | April 24, 2007, 8:16 am
  10. It’s odd that his roommates weren’t extremely alarmed by his behavior–he NEVER talked to them, literally, and they knew he always ate alone and never once saw him socially with another human, except when stalking the girls. I think that most girls would have raised alarm bells about that.

    But I have seen that boys/men will put up with almost anything from the boys/men around them, dismissing it as maybe weird, with no sense that they should help out, be concerned, etc. They kind of feel like they don’t owe anything to anyone around them when it comes to mental or psychological well-being. They just ignore it or dismiss it as not their problem.

    People often say boys/men have better friendships because they have less conflict, but I think it’s because they are so self-involved that they don’t bother with anyone else. It is notable that all the people who tried to raise alarm bells about Cho’s behavior were women while the people who knew most about him–his roommates–did nothing to try to get help for him.

    I think if I had a roommate like that in college, I certainly would have called his parents, psychologists, university staff, etc. trying to get help for him, alerting whoever I could. I wouldn’t have just thought, “well, to each his own.”

    I think men put up with/ignore a lot of what should be very alarming to them. And this is one way they sustain/allow patriarchy and violent behaviors to continue.

    Posted by Karla Mantilla | April 24, 2007, 1:21 pm
  11. Hey, Karla! So happy to see you in here. 🙂

    So true what you’ve said there. One of the saddest stories related to Cho and the college students who knew him is the one where the roommate, I *think* — I’m pretty sure — says that Cho called him and said, when the roommate asked “who is this?” “question mark.” And then when the roommate pushed him, Cho said it again, “Question mark.” My sense is, this was Cho, trying to kick it, trying to hang with the fellas and be funny and make his roommate laugh. It fell flat of course, because it was a wierd and creepy thing to do, especially on the part of someone as quiet as Cho is said to have been. But I think if this had been a girl roommate, she would have been all over this with her friends, her mom, her mentors, like, “Listen to what my roommate did! She is so weird!” And then the woman listening would say, “Whoa, that is wierd!” And off the women would go analyzing everything. But you’re so right, men/boys are so often hands-off about these wierd or “off” social behaviors, it’s like a male code or something.

    That’s a great insight that it was *women*who sounded the alarm while those closest to him did nothing.

    That includes Cho’s mom. Cho’s roommate said at one point, Cho’s mom pulled him aside, gestured towards Cho, and whispered, “Help him,” like, in desperation.


    Posted by womensspace | April 24, 2007, 3:53 pm
  12. While I agree that this might have been avoided if people had taken stalking, the photo taking & domestic violence more seriously, it wasn’t just women trying to raise the alarm. Cho’s suitemates had alerted some of his potential stalking victims to his behavior. One of them called authorities when Cho talked about killing himself. And they all discouraged female friends from coming to the suite so Cho wouldn’t harass them. So, I think it’s unfair to say they didn’t try to help/intervene.

    My question is why didn’t the university do something about the stalking & the taking photos of female students in class without their permission?

    Posted by lisa | April 29, 2007, 2:43 pm


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