Whittier College to Commemorate Five-Year Anniversary of Virginia Tech Massacre in Nationwide Movement

April 11, 2012

Under the direction of Dr. Katherine Nigh, Whittier College students from all fields of study will come together to perform "What A Stranger May Know," a series of plays by Erik Ehn in the Campus Center Courtyard on Monday, April 16, at 12:30 p.m. to commemorate the five-year anniversary of the tragedy that struck the campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

"What A Stranger May Know" honors each of the victims of the Virginia Tech Massacre, focusing on their lives as individuals rather than the violence of the shootings. This performance will be taking place at more than a dozen campuses across the United States, including Brown University, City College of New York, Brandeis University and University of San Francisco. According to Ehn, "The material is drawn from the public record; what is the space of civic mourning? The language attempts to provide our empathy (our compassionate reasoning) a particular job, given the giant obstacles to knowing. The performance functions as a kind of zen-garden in language - an experience that audience members navigate for themselves, moving through a field of readings, slowing to meditate on the lives of the lost, leaning into commemoration as best we can across the great distances in our human family."

The Virgina Tech Massacre is the largest school shooting in U.S. history and the largest shooting (in terms of victims) by a single gunman in U.S. history. The tragedy began on the morning of April 16, 2007, when mentally-disturbed student Seung Hui-Cho took the lives of 32 people, including faculty and students, and ended his rampage by taking his own life.

This tragedy has caused major changes in the way school campuses approach school violence. Many college campuses, for example, have implemented campus alert systems that notify students via text message or email in case of an emergency. The shootings have also sparked intense discussions about gun laws, cultures of violence, and a seeming increase in school violence.

Katherine Nigh is an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Whittier College. She teaches in the Department of Theatre and Communication Arts. Katherine received her PhD from Arizona State University's Department of Theatre in the Theatre and Performance of the Americas program and emphasized her research on theatre and social justice. Her dissertation, "Performing Nation, Performing Trauma: Theatre and Performance After September 11th, Hurricane Katrina and the Peruvian Dirty War," examines the relationships between national identity and construction with national trauma and performances that address these relationships. She has had the great pleasure of working with socially-conscious, community-involved performance groups, including El Teatro Campesino of California, Junebug Productions of New Orleans, and Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani of Peru.

Erik Ehn is the head of the playwrighting program at Brown University. He has written over sixty plays produced in the U.S. and internationally. He is known for writing abstract plays that address violence, genocide, and other socially-conscious topics. He has been a recipient of a Rockefeller Grant, a McKnight Fellowship and a Whiting Award. He received his M.F.A. in playwrighting from Yale University.