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What is it about Tech?

January 23rd, 2009

Earlier this week, an international student from China, Haiyang Zhu, decapitated anther Chinese student, Xin Yang. Ms. Yang had only been at VA Tech for about 2 weeks. The murder weapon was a large kitchen knife. No motive has been established and no one is sure how the victim and the perp even knew each other. From all appearances the 2 were having a cup of coffee. Haiyang Zhu is being held without bond for first degree murder.

The managers at the apartment complex where Zhu lived reported his behavior has been bizarre in recent weeks. He had been confrontational with others, wouldn’t turn on his heat, left firewood in the middle of the room, and accused the apartment complex of stealing his shoes, despite the fact he had 2 roommates. The Blacksburg police informed them there was nothing they could do and to seek the help of the international offices at Tech.

How carefully are foreign students vetted? Obviously, Zhu had some extremely serious problems. There are about 2,100 international students in attendance at Tech. When controlling terrorism and fear of illegal aliens using our resources are issues which concern Americans, why do we have so many International students? Are they all on student visas? To me, severing someone’s head is terrorism. I would far rather pass the Dream Act and have our international students properly vetted than allow the equivalent of Jack the Ripper running around loose on any of our state campuses.

Lastly, what does it take to get someone to listen about bizarre behavior? Why can’t we do anything about it? Why was the apartment complex just blown off when they sought help? You would think those at Virginia Tech would still be on high alert for student killers.

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  1. IVAN
    January 23rd, 2009 at 19:19 | #1

    I went there and never had any problems, but that was a century ago. I guess it’s a more complex world we live in. Who knows what the effects are when you take someone from their home and transport them half-way around the world to an enviroment they may have trouble adjusting too.

  2. Elena
    January 23rd, 2009 at 22:26 | #2

    This story is so disturbing, so sad. Clearly seems like a mental health breakdown.

  3. Moon-howler
    January 23rd, 2009 at 22:28 | #3

    We ought to be able to not only vet students here on visas better but we also ought to be able to have some sort of intervention when people start acting loony. Why wait until something awful happens?

  4. SecondAlamo
    January 24th, 2009 at 08:46 | #4

    It’s all about the rights of the individual today, and so we are prevented from taking action. Many today are so self centered with this feeling of personal entitlement that they feel they don’t have to listen to anyone or any rules in the least. After all, that would be against their personal freedoms! I watched part of a TV series about school principals and the dealings with troubled students, and every student felt that having to obey any rule was an attack on their ‘freedom’. I get the feeling that much of this has been drilled into their heads by the liberal approach to discipline in our society. Look how long it took for that billboard to come down in Manassas. Years ago it wouldn’t have lasted a single day if you had erected such an attack on the community in which you live. The youth sees this, and figure you should be able to do anything you please as it all some how links to the freedoms described in our Constitution. I seriously doubt our forefathers intended that acts against society in general was part of the ‘freedom’ to which they were referring.

  5. DiversityGal
    January 24th, 2009 at 09:16 | #5

    I actually think this is more about the complexities of mental health issues than it is about anything else. Mental health is a lot more difficult to screen for than the standard immunizations, physicals, and standardized testing that one needs to get into college. There is no easy blood test that will tell you if someone is mentally ill before they come to your school.

    Diagnosis often takes place over a long period of time for a whole host of issues (many mental illnesses can be masked by self-medication and other behaviors; people, sometimes culturally, still attach a huge stigma to this field and do not trust or will not seek out mental health practitioners; some symptoms of mental illness are similar to symptoms of physical disorders; some symptoms may be purely situational and people may be loathe to take action because they think this fleeting and they do not understand it; etc.).

    I am not saying that this is a good thing, but I think this is why the issue is complex. To make the situation better, we must improve the understanding and acceptance of the mental health field globally. When symptoms like the afore-mentioned are noticed and reported by others, perhaps it would be appropriate for university counseling center workers to at least visit (accompanied by a campus security officer) to check out the situation.

  6. Emma
    January 24th, 2009 at 09:44 | #6

    And if you add to that the student’s right to privacy–at all costs, it seems–then the university’s hands are truly tied. Heck, I pay the semester bills but I am not even entitled to my daughter’s grade reports.

  7. Moon-howler
    January 24th, 2009 at 11:45 | #7

    People seem to be all about rights and nothing about responsibilities. That bothers me also, SA. And you are right, too many people have a sense of entitlement. I believe you and I are enough ‘contemporaries’ to suggest that ‘back in the day’ you really weren’t entitled to jack! Life, liberty, and the persuit of happiness was a concept rather than something that really played out.

    Also, back in the day, your grades went to your parents even if you were putting yourself through college if you lived in their house. I think the 26th amendment brought much of the miseries about as far as privacy. 21 being the age of majority was a good safety net. You had a few years to grow up between graduation from high school and adulthood. Once that right to vote at 18 (and I have no problem with that) came along, all sorts of other issues came to the surface–you know, the unintended consequences.

    DG, I totally agree with your assessment of the mental health issues. I think we have gone way too far with the patient rights thing there also. Too many people are a danger to themselves and to others. Too many people are on the streets. How do we turn back the clock a little on this and somehow just apply common sense to the field of mental health. I am not suggesting we go back to the days of locking people up and applying elecroshock therapy….but something should have been done before that crazed bastard decapitated that poor woman with a knife. When the authorities got there he was holding her head in his hands!

    Now if there was ever a reason for deportation….getting wind of bizarre behavior that was described before this creep killed….put him on the plane and send him home…and I don’t even care about the luv!

  8. January 24th, 2009 at 13:16 | #8

    This is the *anti* BVBL? Huh. Can’t tell.

  9. Moon-howler
    January 24th, 2009 at 14:19 | #9

    Stick around, MB, this week we have had a strange overlap or 2. Trust me, it is an anomoly.

  10. NotGregLetiecq
    January 24th, 2009 at 16:02 | #10

    I will give M-H and S-A the benefit of the doubt here. An extreme reaction is only natural considering how horrific this story is. There is a tendency to want to say something extreme when dealing with extreme emotion.

    My preference would be that we not politicize tragedies like this. Hopefully we won’t here from anyone saying we need more guns because this happened, or less guns, or less foreign students or whatever. Also, when a horrible crime is committed by a minority of any kind, we need to be careful not to allow our reactionary thoughts and conclusions to be directed at everyone who belongs to that minority. As a society we have to learn this lesson time and time again. But recall we did not take steps toward cracking down on skinny Caucasian dudes in the wake of Oklahoma City.

  11. Moon-howler
    January 24th, 2009 at 17:01 | #11

    Not all foreign students are minorities. I don’t think it is an extreme reaction to question the vetting of foreign students. How many of the 9-11 killers were in the USA on student visas? More than one. I don’t know what kind of vetting is done with foreign students. I think it is rather ridiculous for people to be frothing at the mouth over illegal aliens being here and turning a blind eye to anyone who wants to study in America and just saying come on in.

    The flip side of the coin is the fact that even after Columbine, even after the Tech massacre, there seems to be nothing in place allow for intervention when people’s behavior is so far outside the mainstream as to attract attention. I repeat, what does it take, especially at Tech? Did I not read that the Blackburg Police said there was nothing they could do about about a student exibiting bizarre behavior?

    Someone should have cracked down on the skinny Caucasian dudes in Oklahoma City. I certainly mentioned nothing about race. I didn’t bring up guns and I resisted suggesting outlawing knives.

  12. NotGregLetiecq
    January 24th, 2009 at 19:14 | #12

    I defer to D Girl and also Dr. Phil who both say there is no way of predicting future criminal actions based on present day behavior. D Girl that was an awesome post by the way.

    I’m sure you agree M-H with my basic point though. You can’t crack down on skinny anythings who are innocent just because someone skinny did something.

  13. January 24th, 2009 at 20:30 | #13

    I love the way white people treat non-whites like they have to answer for every single crime that some other non-white commits.

    RIght now as I type this, probably somewhere in this country, a white person is murdering someone. But since we all know white people are inherently decent and good, that must be an isolated incident.

    Foreigners, on the other hand…well…that’s different…somehow…

  14. January 24th, 2009 at 20:35 | #14

    I suppose the “liberals” here would be calling for knife-control if they didn’t already realize what a ridiculous idea it was.

    But “foreigner-control”…that might get more traction…

  15. Moon-howler
    January 24th, 2009 at 21:34 | #15

    I don’t see this as a white vs everyone else issue. Somehow ‘foreign’ or international has become some sort of code for ‘non-white’ and I am not buying it. I don’t think we need to declare war on non-American students either. I am simply asking what kind of vetting takes place when an international student comes to America to go to school, whether it is flight school or a university. I don’t know.

    Legal ‘insanity’ vs psychological ‘insanity’ are so far apart that there is no use even comparing them. Yet, all too often the 2 terms are intertwined. There is no predictor who is going to decapitate someone. However, I also do not buy ‘there is nothing we can do.’ There have to be interventions taken with seriously mentally ill people. I thought our governor called for various agencies to look at ways to protect society while not tromping on rights?

    Or perhaps everyone has just gotten too frigging politically correct. Harris, Klebold, and now this decapitator killer should have had lights going off and bells ringing. What safety nets does society have to protects us from mentally unstabile killers like this? And I don’t even want to hear pack heat. That isn’t for everyone.

  16. January 25th, 2009 at 07:01 | #16

    Bad things happen. There are no guarantees. However, you can increase the possibility of defending yourself and others from lethal attack with the judicious use of firearms or other weapons including your own body. If that’s not for you, then I suggest you learn how to run really fast.

    The Big Brother solution though…out of the question.

  17. Moon-howler
    January 25th, 2009 at 07:40 | #17

    Compare how those who were deemed dangerous to themselves and others were handled in previous generations. Somewhere there is a happy medium, between the assylum incarceration of yester-year and a near laissez faire approach taken today.

    There is some responsibility of government or government agencies to have the mechanisms in place to intervene when bad things have a strong possibility of happening.

  18. DiversityGal
    January 25th, 2009 at 09:00 | #18

    Actually, I think there are no real measures taken to evaluate incoming domestic students for mental health. Those measures don’t really exist for colleges across the board.

  19. January 25th, 2009 at 09:03 | #19

    Intervention of government is itself a bad thing.

    It’s better to be individually responsible for one’s own safety.

    Even then, no matter how hard you try, your own body will eventually wear out and you will die.

  20. Moon-howler
    January 25th, 2009 at 12:13 | #20

    DG, I think we are trying to merge 2 seperate issues. Issue 1-mental health- Apparently not much has been done as far as interventions. The Blackburg cops apparently didn’t feel it was up to them to get involved. I guess my feeling is, what a huge step it would be if they had at least called international affairs or whatever the dept is called at tech and said one of your students is apparently having difficulty. And had he been an American student, what would the same police dept done? How about calling Dean of Students office or someone on campus who had intervention plans.

    Coming under this same heading would be suicides. Suicide rates on campuses are rather alarming. They are also brushed under the rug big time. Who is called in that case? Or do colleges and universities take the attitude …nothing we can do….

    The other issue is the vetting of foreign students, not necessarily for mental illness but in general. Who decided who comes to this country? Are there any standard red flags? How about diseases? How about being members of political groups who wish us harm? I don’t know. Do the colleges get to choose? Charge exorbitant fees to keep the college afloat? How many colleges use recruitment of foreign students to provide a monetary base? I think some of them would allow Bin Lauden in himself if he could pay the fees.

    Mackie, you are too young to be so cynical.

  21. Moon-howler
    January 25th, 2009 at 12:20 | #21

    NGL,

    Dr. Phil who… say[s] there is no way of predicting future criminal actions based on present day behavior.

    Do you really listen to Dr. Phil? Too pop culture for my tastes. I don’t totally agree with his assessment. While I don’t think one can say with absolutel certainty, if person x does y then z will happen, but there are certainly indicators that alert authorities what to look for. Law enforcement does it daily. There are also indicators in children that send up red flags for later behaviors as young adults. Nothing is certain, but it is good to be mindful.

    Just something as simple as not taking medication if a person has certain diseases could be an indicator.

  22. Leila
    January 25th, 2009 at 22:13 | #22

    I think casting suspicion on foreign students in general for the crime of an individual is problematic. It may make people feel better, but I think that is it. I also wouldn’t invoke 9/11 or use the term terrorism to apply to this horrific action. For one thing, the term loses all meaning when it is used too widely and without any political context. Plenty of home-grown murderers have done similar horrific things, including decapitation, cannibalism, etc.

    US universities have so many foreign students because that is part of how they survive financially. It also is of some benefit to the US to be a place where people come for university degrees. It isn’t only a one-way proposition. Students should certainly be watched for mental health problems or violent tendencies, but that means students in general and graduate students in particular. This is a horrible tragedy, but I think the focus needs to be on the man who did it. I am not denying there are special stresses on foreign students, but a quick Google search indicates there are more than 580,000 foreign students in this country and it is only the tiniest sliver of a percentage of that population that commits violence. I don’t think they deserve the added stigma as a group, but individuals certainly need to be flagged if their behavior warrants it no matter where they are from.

    Bottom line, these kind of sudden maniacal crimes are the hardest sort to prevent, whether it is this Chinese student at Virginia Tech or the guy who killed two babies and an adult at a day care center in Belgium last week. But I agree people have to be less reluctant to take action in the face of obvious warning signs.

  23. DiversityGal
    January 25th, 2009 at 22:58 | #23

    Good post, Leila.

  24. Moon-howler
    January 25th, 2009 at 23:15 | #24

    No one will answer my question. I assume, therefore, no one knows. Is there any vetting of foreign students. By foreign students I mean anyone who needs a visa to come here to school.

    Have standards changed since 9/11? I think 9/11 is very relevant, since some of the hijackers were here on student visas.

    I think all students should be watched for signs of mental illness and there should be a mechanism in place to provide an intervention. Was there none with the Blacksburg PD?

    I am still trying to reconcile people on a real rant over illegal immigrants having nothing to say about student visas. I had assumed things had really toughened up. Apparently not. Why is it ok to have international students on a visa and not kids (who are not in status) who have grown up here most of their lives going to college? It must all be about money since international students are often gouged to support the rest of the college or university.

  25. ShellyB
    January 25th, 2009 at 23:31 | #25

    I agree, good post Leila.

    Why no hysteria on the old blog? Why no news stories trying to spook us about foreign students? I think it’s because Americans are rarely as stupid as we have been recently about Hispanic immigrants.

    We have foreign students from all over the world, and no one is under the foolish impression they come only from a country that makes it obvious they are from another country (like China). If all the foreign students were from China, then you might get the reaction you are talking about M-H. Or, maybe this thing against Hispanics was a Lou Dobbs special, and it will never happen again.

  26. January 25th, 2009 at 23:37 | #26

    M-H,

    What are you talking about? We’re all being watched and tracked. Including you and everyone you love.

    Of particular interest is how they covered it up when they had to meet with oversight committees.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqigfE0nBs0

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTivPZZorWY

  27. Moon-howler
    January 26th, 2009 at 00:06 | #27

    Most schools nowadays have a large international population. I am trying to find out if our rules for allowing students into the country have changed any since 9/11. I know that shortly after that event the govt lost some Middle East students who were here on visas and there was a manhunt looking for them. Has this relaxed any?

    Tech has had enough violence. Time to give that school a break. I certainly do not attribute the Tech massacre in 2006 to any failure in foreign vetting. The perp was not here as an international student. In fact, he was eligible for in-state tuition. I do blame our own systems of privacy for failure to let tech know one of those students had serious emotional problems. That situation came right out of Fairfax county–home grown problem.

    I think we as a nation are going to prehaps redefine what is confidential information. Perhaps confidential information needs to become higly sensitive information or semi confidential information.

    Americans will probably never agree on how much information to release to those who might need to know.

  28. Leila
    January 26th, 2009 at 00:15 | #28

    I guess it depends what you mean by vetting. Any kind of formal visa involves some kind of scrutiny, but it can be very lax. The State Department site says student visas generally involve interviews at a US embassy or consulate. The application process is pretty elaborate.

    http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1268.html#need

    The level of screening, especially post-9/11 I would imagine depends on the country and on the attentiveness of individual consular officials. There is a huge amount of discretion by embassy officials abroad when it involves granting visas to live here for a time. I don’t know if it involves mental health screening, but I would imagine if someone exhibited obvious signs of mental illness he/she would be denied. Tourist visas are another matter. There are 35 countries on a visa waiver program meaning that their nationals can come to the US without having applied for a visa in advance. Almost all those countries are EU members, no country in the Middle East is included, China isn’t included etc. And even under the visa waiver program, if you get here and the ICE officer disaproves of you for whatever reason under the sun, he/she can refuse to stamp your passport and you can’t enter.

    I think only ONE of the 9/11 hijackers entered the United States on a student visa. That was Hanjour. The others who applied to flight school had entered on tourist visas and then applied for the training. The fact they didn’t adjust their visa status to reflect that change was illegal, but they were already in the country so…

    http://www.9-11commission.gov/staff_statements/staff_statement_1.pdf

    The vetting problem for the 9/11 hijackers was not in the specific area of student visas. One central element was a laxness in regard to Saudis wanting to visit the US. 15 of the 19 were Saudis I believe. Saudi nationals at the time were given less scrutiny than other Arabs because of the wealth of the country and because of its status as an ally. I think there obviously is a lot more attention paid now to evaluate visa applicants in terms of terrorism, but that would not have stopped the Chinese man who committed this murder at Virginia Tech. The application process for student visas is fairly elaborate, but it may not be elaborate in the areas you’d want.

  29. Leila
    January 26th, 2009 at 00:22 | #29

    I should have specified that the visa waiver program is ONLY for temporary tourist visas, and like I said, almost all the 35 countries involved are European. It is often an issue of reciprocity as well. That is why Americans can hop on a plane and enter the UK, Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, and so on without having to have gotten a *tourist* visa in advance of leaving.

  30. Leila
    January 26th, 2009 at 00:28 | #30

    There are hundreds of thousands of foreign students in the US. The overwhelming majority are legitimate and their presence is beneficial to the institutions they attend as well as to American interests in the world. As absolutely horrific as the Va Tech crime was, it doesn’t make sense to make this an issue of foreign students, any more than it would make sense to make Jeffrey Dahmer an issue of blondes from Ohio. Dahmer makes this Chinese killer look like an amateur.

  31. Moon-howler
    January 26th, 2009 at 01:52 | #31

    Chinese students have been contributing positively to the educational setting every since I can remember. I agree. I don’t think it matters where the killer was from.

    I simply wondered how students were vetted. Contrast this with the stink being made over allowing children of illegal immigrants in to our universities and colleges, even though these children have spent most of their lives in the United States. Very often it is the only home they have known. Do we owe foreign students entrance before these kids? These kids are also likely to stay here. International students usually go back to their own countries with their education.

    Thanks Leila for all your information. That is the first answer I have gotten.

    It was not my intent to say all foreign students are now suspect because of this one incident and I believe many people have read a message I was not intending to convey.
    I had no idea how international students were screened. Nothing more, nothing less. As I asked the question, I was thinking of all the kids I consider American who are being denied an education because of their parents’ status.

    Well, at least people are responding so I must have stuck a chord …..

  32. Elena
    January 27th, 2009 at 07:07 | #32

    Diversity Gal,

    DiversityGal, 24. January 2009, 9:16, that was a great post. I think that MH did not intend for this to become a discussion about the legitimacy of all foreign students. The reality is that when some once commits such a heinous crime, it is rarely predictable. This is a sad and tragic case, especially because Virginia Tech has experienced so much loss already. I believe the focus of the story should be on mental health and how we help people reach out, not only those who are suffering, but those who may believe that someone needs help. I imagine that this student was exhibiting some type of disturbing behavior prior to the his break.

  33. Moon-howler
    January 27th, 2009 at 07:34 | #33

    Elena, you are right. I certainly did not intend for the discussion to become about the legitimacy of all foreign students. As I often do, I posed questions that I had heard people asking around the blogosphere and out and about. I do not necessarily agree or disagree with the questions posed. The questions are there to stimulate discussion.

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