COVER SIDEBAR- Been there: Former Kent State VP lauds response
The April 16 massacre at Virginia Tech was, for most Charlottesvillians, their first experience with a deadly shooting on a college campus. But not for Robert Matson.
Long before coming to Charlottesville to serve as director of leadership development for UVA's Weldon Cooper Center, Matson was the vice president of student affairs at Kent State University, a campus forever marked by May 4, 1970, when Ohio National Guardsmen shot and killed four students during a protest of the American invasion of Cambodia.
While Matson prefers not to say much about what he witnessed that day, he is quick to dismiss any comparison between Kent and Blacksburg.
"Kent State was entirely different," says Matson. "It was a response generated by a war, and [the shooting] was an official government action. This was one deranged person."
However, Matson believes the Commonwealth and Virginia Tech have learned from at least one mistake made by Ohio officials 37 years ago.
"Since the state closed the school right after it happened, Kent State never had a chance to grieve," says Matson. "In staying open, Virginia Tech has been allowed to cry and hold hands and grieve– and has shown a very strong sense of connectedness and purpose in responding to something people can't even imagine handling."
While some pundits have been critical of the Tech decision not to cancel classes immediately after the first shots rang out inside a residence hall, Matson says Virginia Tech president Charles Steger and his administration deserve only praise for their actions during and after April 16.
"They've handled it phenomenally well from top to bottom," says Matson, speaking from the experience of attempting to pull a campus through unprecedented tragedy. "I think they've done a superb job in dealing with an impossible scene."
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