A lot of tragic events has happened this past semester from the shooting in New Zealand to the bombing in Sri Lanka. While I’m not saying those are not equally as important and devastating, the school shooting at UNC shocked me the most. Maybe it is because the incident occurred on their last day of class, and I, myself, was in the last week of classes as well, but it hit close to home. It is sad to know that this sort of violence doesn’t just occur in the US. A few months prior, there was a school shooting in Brazil where 5 students were killed. It made me think that this could have occurred in any campus, even my campus and there would have been no effective way to prevent it. It is sad that we now live in a time where school shootings have to be prepared for. I remember back in elementary school the only drills we practiced were the fire drill, tornado, and earthquake. But, as I graduated to middle school and then to high school, we were shown a video about the Columbine shooting and then we gradually had regular drills for what to do in case we had an active shooter in the building. Every student in my high school is issued a student ID during registration before school starts. Even though we had them, we never really used them unless it was for standardized testing. That all changed after the Sandy Hook shooting. It then became mandatory that all students must be always wearing their ID on a lanyard around their neck and must be always visible and doors between school buildings would now be locked so students must show their ID to a camera in order to be let in. While some students found creative ways around the regulation such as printing their ID on a t-shirt and wearing said shirt around, it was sad how this was now part of the daily routine. Teachers in first period now had the responsibility to check that every student had their ID with them every single day. Now in college, I still carry my ID everywhere to be let into buildings and for exams, but on such a large and open campus, there is no way to prevent a person with bad intentions to getting on campus. Just this semester, I had to listen to multiple professors at several different points throughout the semester to address another school shooting, thankfully elsewhere, and one professor even spent precious lecture time to discuss logistics on what to do if an active shooter entered our classroom. It is sad how frequently school shootings are occurring. I don’t know if they are occurring more, or if the media is reporting these types of incidents more publicly. A school should be a safe environment to teach the future generation. Instead, it has turned into a place of potential fear.
Near the end of the semester, I attended a talk called “Jihadi Salafism and the Decline of ISIS: What’s Next?” by Cole Bunel, who is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Islamic Law and Civilzation at Yale Law School. Especially since this talk occurred a few days after the incident in New Zealand, it was interesting to hear Dr. Bunel’s opinions the relationship between the mosque attack and ISIS’s need to retaliate with an attack in Sri Lanka. Even though ISIS has lost major cities, they are still organized and Dr. Bunel believes that they will most likely retreat and keep fighting. At the end of the lecture, there was an open question and answer session. During it, a debate broke out between two adults. One adult, a Muslim, hijab-wearing woman brought up a point that when researchers present to the public, they need to be careful about using Arabic words since the media can twist it. For example, the word “jihad” means struggle in Arabic, and the Arabic woman said that back in her home country she would use that term multiple times a day, but now media has twisted the meaning of the word so that when people hear it, they associate it with terrorism. She says that she is fearful of speaking Arabic in public because of other people’s assumptions. Another man, an ex-Muslim from Turkey, interrupted and counter-argued that we should create another language for researchers just because the public is misinformed, but rather we need to use it more often to educate people. While this man has a valid point, he presented his argument very rudely. I think that both people have valid points. Non-Arab speakers often associate foreign words in the context, and most Americans usually only hear Arabic words from the media about terrorism. We need to educate people to understand that words are part of a language to communicate and just because a terror group uses a language, it doesn’t mean that all people who speak that language or that language is bad.
As part of being on the ICDG Exec Board, each member is supposed to host discussion with a professor event each semester. After some coordinating, I was able to host a discussion with Dr. Mains, who is an Anthropology professor and a Fulbright Fellow in the Honors College. His research focuses on the youth and infrastructure development in Ethiopia. Dr. Mains was kind enough to forward a few articles on the topic before the discussion. On the night of the discussion, we actually had a much higher attendance than expected and many people asked well-thought questions. It was interesting to learn about the conflict between Ethiopia and Egypt regarding hydroelectric dams. Ethiopia is upstream along the Nile River compared to Egypt. Due to their want to increase their economic development and meet their need for more electrical power, Ethiopia is planning on building one of the biggest dams. This creates concern for Egypt, who is downstream of the dam, and heavily depends on the flooding of the Nile River to support their agriculture and survival. Only time will tell how these two countries will resolve the conflict. Dr. Mains drew an interesting parallel how a few decades ago, the United States outsourced their manufacturing to other countries such as Mexico and China. Now, China is considered a powerful player and is outsourcing their manufacturing to Ethiopia. Despite the parallel, Dr. Mains doesn’t believe that Ethiopia will become a powerhouse any time soon. I had a fantastic time discussing with other students and Dr. Mains about Ethiopia’s development.
This past semester, I had the great fortune to be on the ICDG Exec team and be a co-moderator with another GEF fellow. While our group size was smaller than past semesters, we had some very interesting discussions. We had a couple international students in the group this semester, so it was very interesting to hear from their perspectives about global events occurring in their own countries and how the media can put a different spin on events. One girl in my group, her parents are from Pakistan and I learned a lot from hearing her talk about the recent events of the tension between India and Pakistan. In the past, I’ve always been aware of the long conflict between the two countries, but I never fully understood how the conflict originally began. Especially with the current political climate, a lot of the discussions were mainly focused on national news. Near the end of the semester, we had a lot of fun debating and predicting about the presidential candidates. I am looking forward to my last year of ICDG starting next semester!