BLACKSBURG — It was in Room 206 of Norris Hall that G.V. Loganathan died.
Loganathan, an engineering professor, was teaching a class on advanced hydrology when he was shot to death, one of 32 who died in the April 16, 2007, massacre at Virginia Tech.
Norris Hall, built in 1960 to house the university’s engineering program, holds painful and nightmarish memories for many.
That it’s still in use, that professors still go there every day to teach students, however, is a victory to many close to that day’s tragedy.
“Norris Hall is not mine alone,” Uma Loganathan, the daughter of G.V. Loganathan, said recently. “Norris Hall started off as a building where people go to learn, where staff go to teach. Faculty, staff, students all combined to pursue education.
“What happened there was a violation of that. To take it back and turn it into something positive is a very powerful thing.”
In all, 30 of the 32 who died in the massacre were killed in Norris Hall, on the second-floor wing of classrooms. The 4,300-square-foot area remained vacant for months after the shooting, as the university grappled with how to use the space — if they should use it at all.
That September, more than five months after the tragedy, a committee that included Dr. Jerzy Nowak, a horticulture professor and department head at Tech, began reviewing proposals for how to use the space in Norris Hall.
Nowak, whose wife was killed in the massacre, proposed a center to study issues of violence and peace, crediting the idea to his middle daughter, Francine.
Jocelyne Couture-Nowak died in Norris Hall, Room 211, as she was teaching an intermediate French class. She tried to save her students and herself by barricading the door to her classroom before she was shot.
Like Uma Loganathan, Jerzy Nowak found triumph and tribute in seeing educational work continue at Norris Hall. The Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention at Virginia Tech opened in 2008, and Nowak served as its director until he retired in 2011. James E. Hawdon, a criminologist who had worked with the center previously, took over Nowak’s work.
On the day of the shootings, Hawdon remembers looking out his office window on the top floor of McBryde Hall, overlooking Norris. He had heard a report of shootings on campus.
“The next thing I knew, the entire area around Norris was sealed off by SWAT teams,” Hawdon said. “I watched as they were evacuating the building.”
Images from that day, of victims being wheeled out of Norris Hall, of heavily armed police swarming Virginia Tech’s bucolic Southwest Virginia campus, and of mourners grieving on the school’s massive Drillfield, are seared into the nation’s consciousness.
Like Uma Loganathan and Jerzy Nowak, Hawdon believed the sooner Norris Hall returned to a place of education and collaboration, the sooner the university could heal.
“There was no hesitation at all for me,” Hawdon said about working in the space where so many people had been murdered. “Space has the meaning we attach to it. I attach the meaning of a more socially positive value of education and the pursuit of knowledge.
“I refuse to allow a murderous act to define this space for me. We needed to reclaim this space for pro-social forces.”
A $1 million renovation has transformed the second-floor classroom wing into a modern research space, with offices, meeting rooms and a state-of-the-art video teleconferencing center.
Hawdon’s center studies issues of violence at every level, from interpersonal bullying to international warfare. He has one other staff member, four graduate assistants and several dozen affiliates.
They’ve worked on matters of policing, incarceration, community responses to mass shootings and, of course, the epidemic of gun violence in America.
The center hosts conferences to bring together scholars studying these issues across the nation and around the globe.
A decade after one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, education goes on at Norris Hall.
“I think what you see in Norris today is that commitment to continue on with the business of teaching and learning,” said Mark Owczarski, a school spokesman who was working at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007.
“Because that’s what brought all these people together. I think that was always a common goal, that that would not be stopped. I think, personally, I take comfort in knowing that those legacies of teaching and learning continue to this day.”