Skidmore Responds to the Christchurch Mosque Attacks
At around 1:40 p.m. on March 15, a white supremacist entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and opened fire. Within fifteen minutes of the first shot, fifty people were killed and fifty more injured. The terrorist, a 28-year-old Australian man, has been arrested and charged with murder, with further counts expected to be laid.
Named one of the deadliest terror attacks in the country’s history, the attack has reinitiated a global conversation about white nationalist terrorism, Islamophobia, and gun control — with the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern agreeing to reform the country's gun laws.
News of the attack in Christchurch traveled to Skidmore College and drew responses via campus-wide emails from the Office of the President and the Student Government Association (SGA). Both emails condemned the horrific nature of the act and offered resources of comfort and solidarity.
“We need to do more to fight this hatred. We all need to look upon one another as human beings. We all need to stand in solidarity with the Muslim community of Christchurch and Muslim communities throughout the world,” SGA concluded.
This attack resonates deeply on campus: Skidmore currently runs a ‘Skidmore in New Zealand’ study abroad program based in central Christchurch. Katie Pelham ’20 was in her on-campus apartment at the University of Canterbury (UC) in Christchurch when she received “a brief mass email from UC, advising students to stay inside and that the campus was on lockdown as per police request due to ‘an incident off campus.’”
“Being from the United States, I am unfortunately desensitized to such consequences of violence,” explained Pelham. “The internet was the first place that I read that this ‘incident’ had been a mass shooting in a mosque. And that it was merely ten minutes down the road from where I was.”
Describing her shock, fear and sadness as she processed the events from such close proximity, Pelham went on to add that she also felt waves of guilt.
“Family members, friends just gone. It caused me guilt. Guilt that I was only imagining what it must be like to lose someone, while so many others suffered the reality. Guilt that my white skin kept me safe and that I could not extend that safety to others who needed protection. It caused me immense, indescribable sadness.”
In the days after the attack, Pelham explained that her study abroad program went above and beyond to offer multiple forms of support to her and her fellow students, although she never received a note of support from Skidmore.
Back on Skidmore’s campus, the Muslim Students Association (MSA) organized a vigil gathering at the Intercultural Center (ICC) on March 21. Led by members of the club and K. Parker Diggory, the director of Religious and Spiritual Life on campus, the vigil drew a large crowd. Tears were shed, prayers were uttered, and speeches were made by students, faculty and staff. Among the members of faculty who spoke were Professor Nurcan Atalan-Helicke from the environmental studies department and Professor Murat Yildiz from the history department who gave a speech on explaining the attack to his young Muslim son, now published on The Nation.
Haja Isatu Bah ’21 and Korotoumou Ballo ’21, two MSA members, spearheaded the vigil. Both students stated that the event was a collaborative effort by all the members of the MSA e-board. They also agreed that the vigil went better than expected, drawing a crowd of students of different identities and backgrounds who came to support and stand in solidarity with the victims of Christchurch.
As international Muslim students, the attack struck a chord with both of them. “I started thinking about how I was in a place of worship only two hours before I knew about this terrorist attack. As a Muslim, there is no safer place for me than a mosque, where I feel that I am connected to God,” Ballo said. Similarly, Isatu Bah was moved to tears while listening to the different speeches at the vigil, as she thought about Muslim individuals across the world who are unable to express their fears.
Isatu Bah added, “Moving forward, I want Skidmore to hold more events on interfaith practices. Dialogues like this can reduce ignorance and create a more cohesive and safe community.”
The Muslim Students Association meets bi-weekly at 7 p.m. in the ICC. More details can be found on the webpage for Religious and Spiritual Life and on SkidSync.