Alfred McAlister

RTF majors junior Justin Perez, senior Victoria Prescott and senior Hannah Whisenant stand outside the UT Tower as a part of a memorial service presentation organized for the anniversary of the 1966 Tower shooting. As president of the Students of the World organization, Whisenant organized the event that memorialized victims of the shooting.

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

Current and former University students gathered on the Main Mall on Friday for a living memorial 48 years after Charles Whitman opened fire from the observation deck of the UT Tower.

The memorial service began at the Littlefield Fountain and moved to where each victim fell, to remember 16 people who were killed and the 31 wounded after architectural engineering student Whitman’s shooting spree on Aug. 1, 1966.

Many of the survivors of the shooting were in attendance, including Claire Wilson James who was one of the first people shot, while eight months pregnant. Her boyfriend at the time, Tom Eckman was killed in the attack, as was their unborn child.

“This is the first time that I’ve been able to be part of a community that was involved in this and I’ve longed for it. I’ve longed for it for all of these years and I’m incredibly touched,” James said.

A group called UT Students of the World organized the event. Hannah Whisenant, event coordinator and radio-television-film junior, learned that an official memorial service had never been held for the victims while working as an intern on an upcoming documentary film on the shooting.

“The turtle pond is built as a memorial, but it’s a very tiny plaque, and a lot of people have been upset about that and with the recent shootings and with mass shootings kind of becoming a recurring problem it seemed like a good time to revisit that issue,” Whisenant said.

The walk finished at the turtle pond behind the tower, where the memorial ended with a speech from adjunct associate professor Alfred McAlister and a moment of silence. McAlister said less guns in fewer hands and better mental health care for people were the keys to preventing mass shootings.

Actually, the same way you prevent mass killing is how you prevent suicide,” McAlister said. “It’s exactly the same thing — school psychologists, mental health experts at the grassroots level finding and helping disturbed people.

James said she didn't feel traumatized by the event, but rather that she is a proud survivor and said she thought it was good that people can talk about it.

Remember how important it is to try your best to talk to somebody when something like this happens, James said. I think it's better if they didn’t focus so much on the killer, but you know, personally, I just always felt sorry for him.

UT will no longer offer classes to help smokers quit — but a new web-based program may replace them.

The UT School of Public Health Austin Regional Campus is developing a free interactive seven-step program designed to help smokers quit over the Internet.

Emily Morris, School of Public Health graduate student and designer of the project, said low attendance led to the University Health Services cancelling in-person classes provided to help students and faculty quit smoking.

“We’ve decided that a peer model program is the best way to go,” Morris said.

The peer model program will share stories and methods from former smokers within UT’s community who have successfully learned how to quit, Morris said.

She said the program would help smokers identify their addiction and understand what encouraged them to smoke in the first place. She said participants would be able to access the program at any time and that it would help them build habits that could reduce their smoking.

Alfred McAlister, adjunct associate professor of behavioral sciences at the School of Public Health and lead designer of the project, said about 70 percent of smokers already want to quit but simply need more motivation to succeed.

“One of the most effective things to do is not to tell people that they should quit but show how other people have done it,” McAlister said.

McAlister analyzed past smoking cessation programs and identified the most effective ones were the most interactive and allowed smokers to share their quitting experiences.

He said registered participants would be contacted after the completion of the program to check on their progress so that the program would constantly evolve to improve effectiveness.

UT’s smoking policy was the subject of scrutiny by the Student Government last semester.

Matt Daley, former SG representative and columnist at The Daily Texan, participated in passing a resolution that called for UT to restrict smoking on campus.

“We didn’t support a full ban, because we felt it wouldn’t respect some people in campus,” Daley said.

Although the resolution did not advance beyond the initial planning stages, Daley said it is an issue that is often brought up and will one day pass.

Savannah Smith, studio art junior and smoker, said a complete ban of smoking on campus would frustrate people more than it would help them quit.

“I’ve read a few things about campuses not allowing smoking at all and that really bothers me because so many people do smoke, and we have a right to smoke,” Smith said.

Although she never considered quitting, Smith said constructive approaches work better than critical ones, and smokers need an understanding environment to help them quit.

The program developers are currently seeking former smokers to volunteer as peer models in the project and expect it to be available in August.

Printed on 06/23/2011 as: UT moves to online model to help student smokers