“It is our community-mindedness and willingness to love one another, as well as our ability to resist fear, stigma, and scapegoating, that provides the surest bulwark against the dark forces that drive individuals, like Whitman, to perpetuate inexplicable acts upon their fellow human beings.” – Dr. Martinez
Hogg Foundation offices were located in the UT tower when the shooting occurred and, following the event, the foundation was involved in implementing campus mental health services in response to the tragedy. In this podcast, we hear a Hogg Foundation employee’s first-person account of the shooting and the mental health questions that arose after this historic tragedy.
Linda Swan-Adkins recalls that day well. It was August 1, 1966 and a hot summer day. She was about to leave for lunch with her mother when she opened the stairwell and saw smoke and heard people calling for help. People falling out of windows, the loud racket of gun shots, students getting shot several buildings away – Linda’s gripping narrative and personal retelling manages to capture the horror of the event.
Having contact with the outside world through only one phone, Hogg Foundation employees, including Linda and several others, were sequestered in their offices with doors barricaded by desks and chairs.
Following the 50th anniversary of this tragedy, Linda hopes renewed interest will help social scientists “discover the cause of such heinous acts, and to discover more about which stresses make college students ‘crack.'”
Mental Health Questions that Arose
At the time, Linda says, no one in the office had guns. None of the campus police carried guns either. She then poses some questions that people today still grapple with:
- Should campus police be armed?
- What was the responsibility (if any) that the campus health center had for patients making dangerous threats?
- Were the services provided sufficient?
It is now known that the shooter, Charles Whitman, had visited the campus health center expressing homicidal thoughts. He was given a follow-up appointment that he never kept. Should they have called the police or notified administration? It was not highly unusual for a student to threaten suicide by jumping off of the tower – but could something have been done?
Following Linda’s story, we hear from Dr. William S. Bush, a professor of history at Texas A&M University and author of Circuit Riders for Mental Health, as he discusses with the Hogg Foundation’s role in the aftermath of the shooting.
Dr. Bush explains how student-counseling services were not really present at that time. He mentions Ira Iscoe, a Hogg Foundation employee and alum of UCLA, a school that had one of the first student counseling in-services in the country. Ira studied their approach and led the development of more robust student mental health services, including a 24/7 hotline and off-site services for those in distress. The suicide rate at UT Austin became one of the lowest in the country over the 20 years following the shooting.
To hear directly from Dr. Bush on the UT tower shooting, check out the following video (starting at 20 minutes 08 seconds).
Even before the 1966 UT tower shooting, the Hogg Foundation sought to broaden the conversation beyond “mental illness” in the clinical sense, using its stature to address larger questions of trauma, tragedy and injustice.