In the wake of the tragic deaths of five military men at a recruiting office in Chattanooga, TN, on July 16, many people—from the FBI to the killer’s childhood friends—have been asking “Why?” Why would someone do this? Why would a naturalized American who was raised in Chattanooga, went to school there, participated in high school sports, was well-liked by friends and teachers, and earned an engineering degree at a local university, turn on his fellow citizens? Furthermore, as members of Psi Chi, what can we do to ensure that we are better able to prepare for, predict, and prevent similar tragedies in the future?
What Can One Person Do?
Reflections on the
"Nightmare in Chattanooga"
|Martha Zlokovich, PhD, Psi Chi Executive Director
Chattanooga, host to Psi Chi’s Central Office since 1987, is a sprawling city of about 200,000 people with a “southern hometown” feel. Many older buildings have been renovated and repurposed, and new ones have been built to create a distinct downtown area featuring excellent restaurants, unique shops, an art museum, a children’s museum, and an aquarium on the Tennessee River. Nearby parks feature civil war battle sites, waterfalls, rock climbing, and hiking, and of course you can “See Rock City.” Because I have regularly visited its vibrant downtown for many years when working in Chattanooga, it is no wonder that it shocked me to learn that a shooting of this magnitude took place only six miles from the Central Office.
National and international business development, a rapidly growing state university as well as several other higher education institutions in the city and surrounding area, and an investment in state-of-the-art “one-gigabit-per-second fiber Internet service to all residents and businesses” (2015, gigtank.com) continue to propel the city forward (Chattanooga resource and relocation guide, 2015). Most people from the area speak with a southern accent to one degree or another, smile and say hello to people they pass on the street, and are quick to help friends and strangers alike. However, like so many other communities that have faced similar tragedies, Chattanoogans are now asking “How could this have happened here?” and “How could we have prevented this?” In particular, it is important for psychologists to consider these questions in order to improve mental wellness in their communities and better recognize and avert similar tragedies in the future.
As it happens, on the day of the shootings I was reviewing applications for the first scholarships Psi Chi has ever offered, which provided multiple concrete examples of how psychology students are already working to make their communities more safe and secure. It struck me that most of the undergraduate students applying already had an impressive amount of volunteer experiences such as helping girls in an alternative school learn about anger management and coping with grief, working in under-resourced communities, training to become certified as an advocate for people suffering from domestic violence or sexual abuse, and volunteering in a neurobehavioral research lab. In addition, many plan to study clinical or counseling psychology in graduate school. Several were double majoring or minoring in criminal justice and plan to go into law enforcement, the FBI, law, or the study of criminal behavior. Others plan to study developmental, social, personality, or industrial organizational psychology, or to go into occupational therapy or social work. Obviously, many students are drawn to the study of psychology because they have a passion for helping others.
Many of these undergraduate student applicants and other Psi Chi members may eventually be the professionals answering such hard questions as Chattanoogans and the nation are now asking. I suspect that several of the police officers, FBI members, investigators, and lawyers working to uncover the shooter’s motives and background in order to both explain this tragedy and prevent future tragedies have had training in psychology, and may even be Psi Chi members. Even so, some people may feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem that such violence represents, asking themselves “What can one person do?”
I suggest taking a cue from Psi Chi’s many impressive scholarship applicants. Find your passion. Work with others in your chapter to make a difference in your community. Psi Chi has supported several Society-wide service projects over the years (Zlokovich, 2010) and encourages chapters to engage their members in meaningful volunteer service activities. What is needed in your community? How can your chapter help? Whether you decide together to raise funds for a nonprofit that helps crime victims, volunteer to assist with helping people in crisis, donate blood, swing a hammer for Habitat for Humanity, collect food donations for a local food pantry, participate in campus events welcoming international students, or volunteer at a local shelter, every small contribution by each individual adds up. Individual contributions improve your chapter’s ability to make a difference, and together, Psi Chi’s 1,130 plus chapters can contribute to positive change across more than 1,130 communities in 11 different countries. Together, we can make a difference.
About the Gig City. Retrieved July 19, 2015, from http://www.thegigtank.com/gig-city
Chattanooga resource and relocation guide. (2015). Retrieved July 19, 2015, from https://www.chattanoogachamber.com/
Zlokovich, M. S. (2010, Spring). Society service projects. Eye on Psi Chi, 14(3), 5. Retrieved from https://www.psichi.org/?143EyeSpr10eZlokovi
A high school
teacher in Pensacola, Florida, inspired Dr. Martha S. Potter Zlokovich
to pursue psychology as a career. She completed her BA in psychology at UCLA,
and MS and PhD in developmental psychology at the University of Florida.
Zlokovich joined Psi Chi in 2008 as its second Executive Director, leaving
Southeast Missouri State University after teaching there for 17 years. This
move, however, was not her first involvement with Psi Chi. She served as
chapter advisor since 1993, as Midwestern Region Vice-President (1998-2000),
and as National President of Psi Chi (2003-04). In 1996, Southeast’s chapter
won the Ruth Hubbard Cousins National Chapter of the Year Award, and several
chapter members have won Psi Chi Regional Research Awards at MPA and/or had
their research published in Psi Chi's Journal.
Southeast, Dr. Zlokovich taught Child Development, Adolescent Development,
Lifespan Development, Advanced Child Psychology, and Introductory Psychology
for Majors. She also served as chair of the Psychology Department and interim chair of the Center for Scholarship in Teaching and Learning. Her research interests
have focused on student study habits, study beliefs, and persistence to
graduation as well as adolescent and young
adult contraception and sexuality.
Dr. Zlokovich and her husband Neil have two sons, a daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter. Aaron (Truman State University, 2010), Stephanie (Institute for Integrative Nutrition), and their daughter Anniston Scott live in Birmingham, AL, and Matthew (University of Alabama, 2014) lives in Nashville, TN.
Copyright 2015 (Volume 19, Issue 4) by Psi Chi, the
International Honor Society in Psychology
Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members
and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs,
awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers,
graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various
fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.
Eye on Psi Chi is published quarterly:
Psi Chi expresses
deepest sympathy to the friends and family of the military personnel who lost their lives serving
Carson A. Holmquist, 25
Marine Corps, Sergeant
Randall Smith, 26
Navy, Logistics Specialist Second Class
Thomas J. Sullivan, 40
Marine Corps, Gunnery Sergeant
Squire K. “Skip” Wells, 21
Marine Corps, Lance Corporal
David A. Wyatt, 37
Marine Corps, Staff Sergeant