A documentary about the life of Miya Rodolfo-Sioson, a lone survivor of a 1991 shooting at the University of Iowa, was screened Friday afternoon at the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library for an audience of five community members and one student.
The screening of “Miya of the Quiet Strength” was part of the annual month-long Investing in Ability series, themed “Diversity Includes Disability,” through the University of Michigan Council for Disability Concerns.
Patricia Anderson, one of the event organizers, said Rodolfo-Sioson’s story is emblematic of the intersection of disability and diversity due to her activism for disability rights across a spectrum of ethnicities.
“Miya's story was chosen because of its current relevance as well as the intersectionality of her story as a Philippine immigrant of political activist parents, her work among Hispanic and Latino/Chicano communities and her work as a disabilities advocate and activist,” Anderson said.
Sonya Rodolfo-Sioson, Miya’s mother, spoke before the screening about the moments following the shooting. Her daughter had been a student at the university and was working as receptionist when the shooter entered a conference room full of professors with a .38-caliber revolver and shot the associate vice president for academic affairs before turning the gun on Rodolfo-Sioson. She survived the gunshot to the throat, but was rendered paralyzed from the neck down.
“We didn’t know whether she wished that he had killed her, or whether she wanted to live damaged,” she said. “I could just see her going through this time: ‘OK that door shut, that door shut, what can I still do?’ And at the very end, she said she could still be an activist.”
The shooter, former graduate student Gang Lu, opened fire on the conference room in frustration over losing the prestigious D.C Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize in physics to a rival student. Miya Rodolfo-Sioson survived after she was shot by Lu at her receptionist’s desk.
Sonya Rodolfo-Sioson emphasized Miya’s resilience following her injury, which included continuing her activism in areas such as disability rights, humanitarian causes and women’s rights through her work for the Women’s Resource Action Center, the Rape Crisis Center and the Battered Women’s Shelter.
“When she came back (from rehab), she said ‘I can help the formatting of newsletters, I can help spread the word.’ And it continued on from there.”
Miya al story included her fight against breast cancer, diagnosed 16 years after the shooting. Her mother said it was due to her weakened immune system, which is often a side effect in quadriplegics.
“I was thinking she was going to live to be 50,” she said. “A lot of people in the disabled community live to be 50 as long as they had support. Well, she was 39 years old and inflammatory breast cancer had set in.”
She said despite this challenge, Miya continued to fight for the causes that were most important to her while simultaneously getting treated for her cancer.
“She still kept on going, she still kept on attending rallies, protesting against injustice, and then she would have to go and get chemo,” she said.
Miya passed away just before her 41st birthday in 2008. Anderson said despite the efforts of the University of Iowa and other communities to commemorate the shooting over the years, she believed the memory of it was disappearing.
“With the 25-year anniversary (of the shooting) and the connection to the theme that we have this year, I thought, ‘Somebody needs to do this,’ ” she said. “We don’t want the 25th anniversary to go by without somebody remembering.”
LSA senior Abbie Bowen, the only University student in attendance, said she admired Miya’s perseverance in the face of overwhelming adversity.
“I thought her story was very inspiring,” she said. “It was very good to see that even though she was a quadriplegic, to get out and still have a life and be very active.”
Bowen said she attended the event because her organization, PULSE, designated this event as one of its training institutes required for members.
PULSE is a student-run, UHS-sponsored organization promoting health, wellness and social justice around campus through peer interactions and events.
Sonya said there are many aspects of Miya’s story that college students can learn from, noting that in the face of what Miya went through after her injury, she still found a way to keep going.
“You can always keep going, no matter what happens to you,” she said. “You don’t have to let you get you down. If I could keep going without even the ability to brush my teeth or feed myself, so can you. That is the message that (Miya’s) life tells.”