Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Students honor Kenyan massacre victims

Red wax hardened on the pavement outside the Student Union and white balloons floated into the sky as University of Massachusetts students gathered to honor the victims of the Kenyan massacre Thursday evening.

On April 2, Al-Shabaab, a Somali-based terrorist group, attacked the Garissa University College in Kenya. The gunmen killed 147 people including students attending the university.

Doxa Asibey, vice president of UMass’s African Student Association and a kinesiology major, explained ASA’s motivation to hold the vigil, saying, “If something affects Kenya, it affects all of Africa. So we come together and we invite everybody else because we are an association not just of Africans but the whole UMass community.”

She added, “We thought it would be cool to invite everyone and make it outside so if you’re just walking by you can join as long as you’re here to show respect.”

Asibey’s plan to have students walking by join the event proved successful as the initial group of about 25 students grew to more than 40 by the end of the vigil.

ASA members handed out red candles and white balloons to attendees as symbols of lives lost and hope for a better tomorrow.

Before speakers took to the megaphone, students held a moment of silence in remembrance.

Shaheen Pasha, a professor of international journalism at the University, discussed her reaction to the news of the massacre, saying it affected her in the different roles that she has: mother, professor and journalist.

She said that as a mother, “I can’t imagine, you know, sending you all off to school and then you don’t come back.”

She called the news “heartbreaking.”

Pasha also said that “as a professor, it really hit home.” She continued, “We really love our students.”

Pasha said her reaction as a journalist was not so much fueled by sadness, but rather by anger. She talked about how little media coverage the massacre received, drawing a stark comparison to the international community’s strong reaction to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo offices in France.

In terms of news coverage and world attention, she said, “You all deserve better.”

Pasha called on students to change the dialogue that is being given to them, saying, “Students will make the awareness grow.” She encouraged them to support organizations covering the issues important to them, saying major news organizations will take notice and change.

Economics Professor Mwangi wa Gĩthĩnji, a Kenyan native, thanked students for coming out.

“It’s important that we recognize beyond just the numbers that they were people and have stories,” he said.

He also told the crowd that it was important to put the acts of violence into context. “What are the underlying factors?” he asked.

Gĩthĩnji explained the long history of tension between Kenya, Somalia and Al-Shabaab, pointing out the marginalization of the Somali people in Kenya and economic disparity in the region.

According to Gĩthĩnji, this “makes it more complicated than a terrorist attack of Muslims against Christians. If you don’t understand that complexity you can’t solve the problem.”

David Chesire, a Kenyan student studying economics at UMass, spoke to the crowd saying that his first reaction to the news was that “It’s actually ridiculous.”

He continued, saying, “I realized, you can’t make sense of a senseless act. One thing you can do though as a community is stand together.”

Marie MacCune can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MarieMacCune.

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