On April 9—Palm Sunday—I awoke to alarming news of a terrorist attack in my homeland: At St. George’s Church in Tanta, at 10 a.m. Egyptian time, as the choir was singing a hymn of praise, an Islamist bomb exploded in the sanctuary, killing 29 worshippers and injuring 71. Three hours later, in Alexandria (my home city), a second blast struck St. Mark’s Church, killing 18 and wounding 35.
I have family and friends who attend those churches. Frightened for them, I called home at once. My parents and brother were safe. Others were less fortunate.
My friend, George Wafik, lost his grandfather, Adel Shoukry Assad. But a loss was suffered by all of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christians. To be so far from home when my community is under attack is harder than you can imagine. How was I to console my friends? Or console myself, for that matter?
I felt angry, fearful, disheartened, homesick, helpless. My people are being killed for their faith.
At the beginning of the year, a bomb went off on Christmas Eve, in St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral complex in Cairo, the main Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt. On Feb. 15, 2015, the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIL) beheaded 21 Coptic Egyptians on a beach along the southern Mediterranean coast of Libya. I can never know when the next attack will come, but when it does, what can I do?
Finding no point in depressing myself more, I dressed and attended church to celebrate Palm Sunday, but the joy of the day was gone.
Back in my room, I posted news of the bombings to my Facebook page—but what I really needed was face-to-face consolation from someone who knew what happened, and who cared. To try to get a better understanding of what happened, I resort to reading all the different comments and opinions that people post. It makes me sick; I never knew so much hatred.
After nearly two weeks of reflection, I remain proud to have my religion challenged and persecuted: my faith is stronger than hatred and violence.
But I write of my experience so that others may be more attuned to world events and more responsive to the needs of international students whose lives are affected by violence or natural disasters back home.
With over 300 international students from more than 60 countries, and American students coming from 47 different states, Vassar represents a wonderfully diverse community—but that means we also have diverse needs.
Many of Vassar’s students come from privileged families. To attend Vassar is a privilege in itself. But the so-called “Vassar bubble” is not a good thing if it makes us unaware of the outside world, or unresponsive to individuals in need at moments of crisis. For “a community diverse in background and experience” we need to be provided a rich educational experience when the entire Vassar community, administrators, faculty and students seek a more global perspective, rather than enclose ourselves in this “safe and comforting” environment. I propose a weekly newsletter emailed by either Vassar’s International Student Association (VISA), Office of International Services (OIS), Boilerplate Magazine or The Miscellany News informing students of important world events. By making our community more aware of world events, we students begin to recognize our roles as global citizens, which can change the world. Because what new experiences could we possibly gain from being in the cyclical Vassar pattern?
The Vassar community isn’t always complacent, though. When Donald Trump won the elections last December, there was a school-wide state of depression.
Vassar’s administration, faculty and student services personnel responded aptly with opentalk sessions, President Chenette held extra office hours, safe spaces were made available, faculty held talks during class about national politics.
When Trump announced his discriminatory restrictions on immigration and travel, the students and faculty were able to bring the topic up to the administration and pass the Sanctuary Campus Resolution. But on April 7, Syrian president Bashar El-Assad dropped chemical bombs upon civilians in rebel-held Khan Sheikhoun. Videoclips of the victims—many of them children—brought tears to my eyes.
But here on campus, with sun shining and the spring breeze blowing, the sarin gas attack went largely unnoticed. We have students at Vassar from Syria and whose families live in fear, caught in the deadliest conflict of the 21st century.
Thankfully, we have groups like VISA and OIS that try to make the transition and life at Vassar as smooth as possible.
More than guiding us through the multitude of bureaucratic processes internationals have to go through, they celebrate international holidays, host us on American holidays and genuinely try to make us feel at home. Nevertheless, I believe these groups could be more attentive to the world problems affecting the internationals on campus.
In the event of an international incident, VISA and/or OIS could check up on students that might have been affected. It is not feasible for the entire campus to fully mourn and subsequently take action against every event that happens.
But if every institution or organization, OIS and VISA for internationals, the LGBTQ center for members of the LGBTQ community, etc., can be in charge of following the events that pertain to their communities, then most, if not all, students will have someone looking out for them.