In defense of Zenobia Hikes
As members of the Virginia Tech community, we wish to express our concern about the way in which the late Zenobia Hikes, former vice president of student affairs, is being characterized in the media as a result of the lawsuit brought by the Pryde and Peterson families against Virginia. In spite of the risks involved in speaking out, we feel a moral obligation to write on behalf of Dr. Hikes, who, due to her untimely death, is no longer able to speak on her own behalf.
Zenobia was our beloved friend and colleague. When she died in 2008, it left a grievous wound in our community. In the past week, it pained us to see her characterized in a headline in The Roanoke Times as the “Virginia Tech official” who “delayed the issue of a shooting alert” (March 7). In this article, and again in court, Hikes has been presented as the main voice for delaying notification of the shootings and stripping the email notice of important details before it was sent out to the campus community.
The revelation about Zenobia’s central role in this process comes as a shock to many of us who spoke with her following the tragedy. We are puzzled as to why the burden of the decision-making process appears to have been laid upon Zenobia, who was, in 2007, a relatively recent hire at Virginia Tech.
Emergency and safety protocols dictate that policy decisions of this magnitude are made by others in positions superior to hers, so it is distressing to us that she is the only member of the Tech Policy Group to have been singled out. The claim that she was “the official” who delayed the alert has been picked up by media outlets across the country and could do serious harm to her reputation.
Roanoke Times reporters Katelyn Polantz and Tonia Moxley have pointed out in their detailed coverage of the lawsuit that other administrators — Kim O’Rourke, Larry Hincker and Ralph Byers — have testified that they are unclear about how the decision to delay notification was reached.
But President Charles Steger has been very clear about this issue, citing Zenobia as the catalyst for the delay and the dilution of the email — an especially troubling disclosure because it comes five years after the tragedy. We had not expected to see Zenobia pushed to the foreground and are alarmed by what this implies.
At the memorial service for Hikes, Steger spoke of Zenobia in the most exemplary terms, praising her dedication to students and her loyalty, in particular. A proud graduate of Spelman College, Zenobia Hikes was not only our friend, she was a friend to students and a loving mother to her two beautiful daughters. We trust that clarification will be forthcoming as to why she has been singled out as the main catalyst for the delayed and diluted email notice issued to campus on that tragic day in 2007.
Computer systems engineer, chemistry
Editor’s note: This letter also was signed by Lucinda Roy, alumni distinguished professor of English; Glenda Scales, associate dean of engineering; Wayne Scales, professor and director of the Center for Space Science and Engineering Research; Tonya Smith-Jackson, professor, industrial and system engineering; and Bevlee Watford, professor, associate dean of engineering.