By Mina Shah
It has become really easy to write opinion columns critically. That is to say, to write opinion columns on things that aren’t going well in the world, on things that we need to step in and change, on daily behaviors that we can alter to make the world a better place. There are a huge number of terrible things in this world and an even greater number of things that we can do to improve on them. As a change of pace, it might be nice, for once, to write a positive opinion on something here at Stanford, even in the wake of something terrible.
About a week and a half ago, there was a terrible massacre in Garissa, Kenya. 148 students were murdered at Garissa University by members of the Islamic extremist group Al-Shabab. There were 500 more who were held captive for several hours before the authorities arrived and rescued them.
This attack has been really hard on many different groups of people: the hostages who were rescued, the families of those killed or taken as hostage, the classmates of the victims, the faculty and staff at Garissa, many people in the country of Kenya. But responses from various universities and other concerned groups around the world demonstrate that the impact was not just felt in East Africa.
School shootings and the deaths of young people in general tend to be particularly affecting, because when young people die, the world loses a bit of its future. All of the changes, all of the improvements that each of those 148 could and would have made to this world can no longer happen. Not in the way that they would have if those people were still alive, anyway.
Last week, to show support for the victims and their families, the Stanford African Students’ Association, Center for African Studies and Black Community Services Center organized a vigil for the 148 students. Students, faculty, staff and fellows came to show their support and stand in solidarity.
The shooting has been especially difficult for people in university contexts like ours to reckon with. I’ve had a really hard time conceptualizing what happened. 148 could be even smaller than the number of people in your lecture this morning. And the victims were, as one of the speakers at the vigil so poignantly reminded us, just like us: university students trying to get an education. They could have been us, or our brothers or sisters or friends or classmates.
It’s encouraging to see a community that could be focused on so many other things still concerned about other people in the real world, even those thousands of miles away. Stanford students tend to be so busy and wrapped up in our own individual realities that we barely even take enough time for self-care. It’s encouraging to see that even though things in our personal lives are constantly moving at full speed, we can still empathize with and care about others.
Similarly, there have been many other events on and off campus this past academic year to demonstrate support for, and recognize the suffering of, people who are intangible to us, as we remain here on campus in our comfortable bubble. Between the Black Lives Matter movement and Students for Justice in Palestine, Stanford students seem to be stepping it up, caring about more than just themselves and their p-sets and papers.
We all need to continue taking time to recognize all of the tragedy that exists in the world and standing together in support of those who are hurting and suffering. It doesn’t feel good to think about horrible things, but it’s important for us to act as a global community and try to make the world a better place — or at least be friendlier to one another in it. We are here, hopefully, not just for the name of the university that will appear on our degrees, but also to gain a more humanistic education, one that allows us to cultivate our trade crafts while becoming better and more fully rounded individuals. Recognizing that we’re not the only ones in existence is part of that.
Contact Mina Shah at minashah ‘at’ stanford.edu.