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Psychologist Provides Cross-cultural Perspective of Virginia Tech Killing

April 23, 2007

TORONTO, ON- Tyndale University College psychology professor Paul T. P. Wong says he has identified several culturally-based risk factors which may have contributed to the Virginia Tech shooting.

Dr. Wong, an internationally recognized expert on cross-cultural psychology, comments, "Cho Seung-Hui had experienced difficulties common to many new immigrants. These included acculturation stresses, language barrier, poverty and discrimination. The cumulative stress of these risk factors coupled with problems of mental illness, autism and personal grievances might have pushed Cho over the edge."

According to Wong, every society has its underclass - often the poor, mentally ill, "sweat shop" foreign workers, and new immigrants who are unable to express themselves adequately in the English language, and carry a sense of being talked down to and neglected. Our society often lets powerless and voiceless people fall through the cracks in our systems.

Wong says, "The Virginia Tech killing might have been averted if Cho's parents had been able to provide him with proper medical care and protection from the harsh realities which he had long endured."

"There can be no justification for the evil of mass killing," Wong emphasizes, "but most new Asian immigrants can relate to what Cho went through and why he may have snapped."

Wong suggests that a system should be devised in order to assist those transplanted into a totally new environment and separated from the usual support systems. Special support is also needed for those diagnosed as autistic children. There is already a societal focus on bullying, but there needs to be a better understanding of the impact that the mocking and humiliation from bullying has on immigrant children who have an English language deficiency, or who are deprived of a normal social life at a time when peer relationships are so important.

Evidence indicates that Cho was insulted by rude customers at his parents' laundry shop; overshadowed by an academically superior sister; expelled from his creative writing class; and rejected by objects of his romantic interests, detained and diagnosed as mentally ill.

"This relentless litany of rejection, failure and humiliation is sufficient to crush any person," notes Wong. "These negative life experiences mixed with Cho's mental condition, coupled with the fact that he came from a shame-based Korean culture, where parents tend to keep quiet about family problems, and avoid getting help from social and mental health agencies, resulted in him becoming an active volcano ready to explode at anytime. He had given out many warning signals of his condition, but no one had entered into his innermost dark places of pain and rage to provide culturally-sensitive interventions."

Wong adds that, "His murderous act was one of anger turned outward, while his suicide was anger turned inward. It was also a final act of defiance; one he believed would restore his manhood and honour after years of feeling helpless and humiliated. From the writings and videos he left behind, it is clear that, in his twisted logic, he saw himself as taking a last stand and dying as a hero."

When asked what we can do to prevent similar tragic incidents, Dr. Wong suggests, "On the individual level, caring individuals and professional counsellors can often make a dramatic difference. On the institutional level, we need more ethnic counsellors in schools and communities to serve the mental health needs of immigrants and ethnic minorities who tend to avoid mainstream counselling services." He points out that Tyndale University College prepares counsellors with multicultural competencies.

"On the societal level, we need to make medical and psychological services available to all who cannot afford them," Dr. Wong appends. "We need to address social issues of poverty, injustice and discrimination. Racism will always be with us, but if we are able to recognize it, we can combat it whenever and wherever it raises its ugly head."

Dr. Wong says a caring society will ensure no child is left behind, and no one is denied a fair chance to succeed. If we extend justice and compassion to all, regardless of ethnicity, disability and other minority status, we will reduce the likelihood of another Virginia Tech incident.


Paul T.P. Wong, Ph.D., C.Psy., is Professor of Psychology at Tyndale University College, and a Registered Clinical Psychologist in Ontario. He has more than three decades of experience working with international students and Asian immigrants. He is available for interviews and comment regarding Cho's mental condition and the Virginia Tech massacre. For more information on Wong's psychological profile of Cho, please visit his website: http://www.meaning.ca

Rachel Collins, Marketing Assistant
Tyndale University College & Seminary
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