College reflects on recent bombings

The Office of Spiritual and Religious Life and the college Counseling Center held An Opportunity to Reflect at 4 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 19, in Ford Chapel following the bombings in New York City and New Jersey, and the stabbings in Minnesota.

Using a knife, Dahir Adan attacked members of the public at Crossroads Mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota, on Sunday, Sept. 18, according to CNN. Nine out of the 10 victims sought medical attention for their injuries and had been released from the hospital by the following day.

If one student shows up, but that student needed some place to go and someone to talk to, then I think that was a success.

— Jane Ellen Nickell

According to USA Today, a pipe-bomb style device exploded in Seaside Park, New Jersey on Saturday morning, Sept. 17. At 8:30 p.m., a bomb exploded in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City injuring 29 people. No one was seriously hurt in either incident. A second device was found in the same neighborhood which was removed in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The mayor of Elizabeth, New Jersey, announced on Sunday night that two men had found a bag containing five explosive devices outside the Elizabeth train station, according to USA Today. One of these explosives then exploded in the early hours of Monday morning while a FBI bomb squad robot was attempting to disarm it. There were no immediate reports of any injuries.

In response to these events, a mass email was sent out to the Allegheny community at 1:22 p.m. inviting students to join the reflection at 4 p.m. that day.

Jane Ellen Nickell, college chaplain, and Dale Humes, counselor, led the An Opportunity to Reflect, which was attended by President James Mullen, Dean of Students Kimberly Ferguson and two students. Despite the small turnout, Ferguson remarked during the event that it was powerful that people even showed up.

Nickell said there was no real plan for the reflection time. They just wanted to provide a space where students could gather and have a conversation.

“If one student shows up, but that student needed some place to go and someone to talk to, then I think that was a success,” said Nickell. “If nothing else, they hear that your college cares about you, and we want to provide you think time and space.”

The group reflected on individual responses to the tragedies over the weekend, as well as ways in which the college could and should be responding to these kinds of events.

“We have the opportunity to choose our own response” said Humes.

Maura McCampbell, ’20, attended the reflection because she noticed herself becoming numb to acts of tragedy and violence in the world around her.

“I had noticed a general sense of apathy in myself regarding the events—all of the mass shootings, all of the recent tragedies and I just wanted to make myself more conscious of them,” said McCampbell.

During the reflection, Ferguson echoed McCampbell’s sentiments, stating that she noticed it often is not until she discovers a personal connection to the tragedies that she really starts to reflect on what has happened.

“Yesterday I was so caught up in my own life, my own things, I didn’t hear about [the bombings] until late,” said Ferguson. “Sometimes we gets so busy … we don’t recognize the impact on people … even just [a few] hours away from us.”

A key point that the group discussed was the media’s reaction to the bombers’ identities. They discussed how perpetrators are often categorized as terrorists and their acts as acts of terrorism when they are Muslim; however, when people of another ethnicity commit acts of terror in the U.S., it becomes about gun laws or mental health.

“Is it any less terrifying if someone comes in your theatre and starts shooting … is it any less scary if they’re white or Muslim?” said Humes.

Ferguson said her initial response is to worry about retaliation and how the college can ensure student safety. She said the weekend’s events made her think twice about opening up the Islamophobia dialogue on Thursday to the community.

Nickell echoed these sentiments, saying one of her biggest priorities is how Allegheny can make sure its Muslim community members feel safe.

Nickell said that she and someone from the counseling center try to provide spaces like this reflection any time there is an event that they think students might be negatively affected by.

“[We provide these spaces] almost always if we have a death on campus, especially if it is a student or something that is unexpected. In the past, we’ve done events like [this for] the shooting in Chardon Ohio and one near Pittsburgh, where we had students who had actually gone to those schools and still had siblings and friends [there],” said Nickell. “Even though this wasn’t close to Meadville, because we have students from that area, just to offer them a place to come and to process and debrief and just to not be trying to handle it on their own.”

McCampbell said that the reflection wasn’t quite what she expected.

“It was a good discussion and we talked about some things that I think needed to be addressed, but I don’t think we came to any conclusions.”

McCampbell planned to attend the Allegheny Listens: A Dialogue on Islamophobia on Thursday, Sept. 22.

“I think addressing Islamophobia in general is something that is pretty essential,” said McCampbell. “I think a lot of the times, problems occur when we don’t talk about issues and just let them go under the radar and progressively worsen.”

Nickell emphasized the importance of offering events like the Allegheny Listens dialogue to help educate the community.

“Offering events like this, so people can learn about Islam besides what they see in the news, which is not always too positive unfortunately,” said Nickell. “The one extremists who leaves a bomb in a trash can is going to get a lot more coverage than the millions of Muslims who are very faithful and committed to a religion that is not violent.”