In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings of 2007, a tendency to view mental illness through the lens of “risk” has been exacerbated on college campuses and beyond. Administrators, counseling centers, law enforcement teams, and policy task forces have encouraged widespread efforts to identify potentially violent students before they act and to intervene with counseling and—in extreme cases—removal from campus. Such procedures and policies have the inadvertent effect of isolating particular students as potential threats (to themselves or others) and prejudging them for actions they have not yet committed, thereby turning students with psychiatric histories into objects of fear for their teachers and counselors, and vice versa. This article charts the historical emergence of psychiatry's entanglement with institutional risk assessment and suggests an alternative framework for responding to the intertwined problems of mental illness and violence. Unlike policies based on risk, legal scholar Martha Albertson Fineman's concept of “vulnerability” is a flexible way of imagining how “inequalities are produced and reproduced by institutions.” Understanding how universities might produce or exacerbate the vulnerability of students with diagnosed or diagnosable mental illness is a first step toward imagining a more humane response to their troubles.
Benjamin Reiss; Madness after Virginia Tech: From Psychiatric Risk to Institutional Vulnerability. Social Text 1 December 2010; 28 (4 (105)): 25–44. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-2010-009
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