The pressure to perform can be especially high for graduate students at colleges and universities. Nationwide, tuition is increasing, with fewer services and reduced course offerings. Graduate students borrow large amounts of money to pay for education, assessing large amounts of debt, which they try and offset by working long hours.
This lack of life balance paired with stress from high academic expectations are the common threads among campus shootings with multiple victims, wrote James Alan Fox, criminology professor at Northeastern University and crime and punishment columnist for the Boston Globe, Monday after the Oikos University Shooting in Oakland.
“It’s a very rare event. But when it does happen, there are certain types of characteristics that are present. Almost all of them are men, or older, and there’s a certain mindset that’s common,” Fox said by phone on Wednesday. Most shootings were carried out by current or former graduate, law, medical, or nursing students, Fox noted in his column. Of 17 fatal shootings with multiple victims on college campuses, from 1990 to 2010, eight were committed by people in one of those categories.
“Many of these advanced students, who had been at the top of their class in high school and college, come to find themselves struggling to get by with just passing grades. At a point in life where they are no longer supported financially by parents, many experience great pressure to juggle employment with coursework and thesis research, with little time left over for attending to social networks,” Fox wrote. Foreign students experience additional pressures because academic visas are often dependent on their status as a student.
Students in graduate and professional programs often lack balance in their personal lives, spending long hours studying, leading them to neglect relationships and hobbies, wrote Fox. “Then when they feel that frustration and disappointment, they don’t have support systems nearby,” he said.
The average age of multiple victim shooters on campuses is 36. “These aren’t 20-year-olds who are discouraged by a bad grade or being expelled, because they have options, or at least they feel like they have options. When you’re 40-years-old, if you get expelled or fail and exam, you may not have other options,” Fox said.
One Goh, the Oikos University shooter, was a 43-year-old former nursing student who moved to the Bay Area, leaving behind an unknown amount of debt in Virginia, and was later kicked out of school for behavior problems. Goh was also “tormented by his inability to get along with women,” a former teacher told the media. Shooters often externalize blame when things go wrong, Fox said.
Goh returned to campus on Monday with a semiautomatic pistol looking for a female administrator. The woman wasn’t there so he took a secretary hostage, escorting her to a classroom where he shot her and five students. His last victim was the owner of a car he stole to flee the scene. All of the victims died.
“When things go bad they [campus shooters who target others] see other people as at fault, not themselves. If they see other people responsible, they aim their aggression and vengeance on other people. He was seeking out a particular administrator but since that person wasn’t there--the term is called murder by proxy--other people could be used as substitutes. You can’t kill the school, but you can kill people at the school as a way to get even with the school,” Fox said.
Fox ended his column with a call for better gun control on college campuses. "One fact is indisputable, rare events can never be anticipated, no matter how ominous the circumstances. The best we can do is to continue efforts to keep concealed weapons as far away from college campuses as possible," he wrote.
Fox compiled a list of multiple victim campus shootings from 1990-2010. It can be seen here at Boston.com.
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