Students turn to Internet to comfort, cope

The day after the worst on-campus shooting in U.S. history, students across the nation have found a unique way to mourn the passing of so many of their peers while USF steps up efforts to communicate with students in an emergency.

Featuring groups with names that vary from “USF is Praying for Virginia Tech,” to “F*** Seung-hui Cho” – who has been identified as the shooter – the online community has become a means for students to deal with the wide range of emotions caused by the tragedy.

“I just wanted to say that I think it is so incredible to witness so many college students across the country expressing their hearts to each other during this extremely traumatic and unexplainable time,” said one member on the group “USF is Praying for Virginia Tech”.

Justin Luttrull, a USF senior majoring in history and creator of the group, said his motivation for creating his group was based in his faith, but he wanted to create a place where USF students could show that they are united in support for Virginia Tech regardless of the their religious beliefs.

“This affects us all as college students,” he said. “I (formed the group) because I wanted people to see that there were united schools, not just random people that support Virginia Tech.”

The USF group alone boasts over 1,000 members.

Ashley Puckett, a student at East Carolina University, started a group called “Prayer for Virginia Tech,” which she said started as a way for people in Greenville, N.C., to mourn, but ended up as a nationwide phenomenon with members from universities across the country.

Thousands gather for a candlelight vigil on the Virginia Tech

“We are lucky to have technology to form groups like this,” she said. “I think it really does help knowing you’re not the only one thinking, ‘What’s going on?'”One group has taken a different approach to dealing with the situation.

Started by ECU senior Hank Harrawood, the “Pick a Hokie” group is focusing on theindividual connection that the Internet can offer. The group asks its members – whose ranks have swelled to nearly 1,000 from more than 15 colleges overnight – to contact a Virginia Tech student.

“We contact a single student and say, ‘I understand that this happened on a large scale but it affected you,” Harrawood said. “We keep Virginia Tech in our thoughts, but we also show one student we are supporting them.”

Not every group focuses on support, however. As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, there were about 50 anti-Cho groups, including, “Cho Seung-hui is a coward and will rot in hell,” “Cho Seung-hui is pure evil” and “I Hope Cho Seung-hui burns in hell.”

According to USF Counseling Center’s Associate Director Dale Hicks, people deal with tragedy in markedly different ways. Previously, counselors would try to rush out and help people, offering solutions such as group therapy, but he said the Counseling Center now waits for people to come to them.

“As of now, we’ve only had a few people walk in,” Hicks said. “But it is not unusual for people to wait before seeking professional help. They usually rely on friends and family for support before coming in.”

USF offers emergency walk-in counseling free of charge to any student and will host a memorial vigil for Virginia Tech today at noon in front of the John and Grace Allen Administration Building.

Lines of communicationIn an attempt to increase the ease and speed with which the University can communicate with students, USF administrators have stepped up their efforts to use what wasoriginally a marketing tool to inform students of emergency situations.Though MoBull Plus’ initial purpose was to inform students of weather-related emergencies, administrators now feel that it could help eliminate the delays of communication that plagued Virginia Tech Monday.

MoBull is a program by which the University or USF groups can send mass text messages to those who sign up, keeping students and staff notified of emergency information or breaking news.

The program has enjoyed moderate success, with 5,000 members since its original launch in 2005.

According to Christopher Akin, assistant director ofe-commerce for information technologies, the system is the most effective way to reach students on a large commuter campus like USF. E-mail bursts -which were employed at Virginia Tech – only reach students already in front of a computer, he said.

Information Technologies Marketing Manager Michele Joel said that though MoBull may have had a bad reputation for inundating students with text messages, it was reworked in April 2006. It is now more user-friendly, she said.

Emergency alerts are the only service offered by MoBull as a default. Students have to sign up for every other service. This means that students will no longer have to receive text messages about every on-campus event to get emergency information promptly.Students can join MoBull Plus for free at