Home » Blog » Distinguishing Fiction from Reality in College Students

Distinguishing Fiction from Reality in College Students

You knew that the actions of the Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho were going to reverberate and likely help change the face of college campuses forever. Not just in the obvious ways, such as increased campus security, but in much more subtle ways too. Such as the English professor ratting you out for your “dark” fiction that, if you were Stephen King, might bring you a $1 million paycheck. But as a starving college student living on campus, it might instead bring you nothing more than a forced psychiatric evaluation and a police escort off campus.

That’s the story of Steven Barber, who wrote just such dark fiction for a University of Virginia creative writing class. Of course, Mr. Barber probably shouldn’t have had 3 guns in his dorm room, but still. Where do colleges draw the line between freedom of speech and expression, and protecting the campus from another Cho? For now, that line is going to be drawn far more conservatively and on the side of safety and over-reaction rather than under-reaction.

That’s the way it nearly always is with such events. Before 9/11, airline security was lax and taken for granted. Now, nearly seven years later, we’re still taking off of our shoes to prevent the ever-present danger of “shoe bombers.” With the Virginia Tech shootings still fresh in people’s minds, colleges and universities (especially those in Virginia!) are going to be overly cautious and look for signs from their students suggesting possible violence.

Of course, the research in this area (predictors of future violence) hasn’t found any single pattern that reliably predicts future violence. The best predictor is also the most obvious — past violent behavior. But these people generally don’t just “snap” one day and go from hitting someone to killing a dozen innocent bystanders. We don’t know why some people do that, and we may never really. These are entirely random acts of violence committed for no rational reason.

So while we understand the need for universities and their professors to err on the side of caution, we also caution against over-reaction and painting all folks with the same broad brush just because some of their writings may be “dark.” Dark writings are a predictor of absolutely nothing, according to the research.

And if a university doesn’t listen to research — the foundation of its very existence — who should?

Read the full article: Schools Struggle With Dark Writings

Distinguishing Fiction from Reality in College Students

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

6 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment
APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Distinguishing Fiction from Reality in College Students. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 20 May 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.