The texts that bombarded my phone last Saturday afternoon will remain etched in my mind for the rest of my life. “Run. Hide. Active shoot (sic) on the Diag. RUN.” While I couldn’t comprehend what was happening in that moment, I knew this day would quickly become a day I would never forget.
For the next four hours, with each “ping,” my phone continued to make my heart drop even further. As I sat in the safety of my apartment, I was nowhere near comfortable, knowing my best friends and community members feared they may be living the last moments of their lives.
I sat in my living room frozen and expressionless, holding back tears every time one of my friends didn’t answer his or her phone. My heart raced each time I heard rumors the alleged gunman was getting closer to my apartment or where my friends were. I feared for my safety and dreaded losing the people dearest to my heart. I worried about getting to class safely and walking home late from the library. I stopped at the idea that our safety as students is not a guarantee and tomorrow is not promised.
Last Friday, two New Zealand mosques faced an act of terrorism executed by a white supremacist who took the lives of at least 50 people and wounded at least another 50. The terrorist responsible for these acts of violence live-streamed his attacks on Facebook for the world to see. While Facebook had the video down within minutes, it has circulated to various online platforms and generated over one million views. In addition to his live-stream, the shooter also released a manifesto highlighting his white supremacist views, in which he praised President Donald Trump and voiced his support for Trump’s views.
The Muslim community around the world has been put under extreme pressure to openly express its identity during a trying time of bigotry. With popular figures like Trump continuing to fuel the energy and passion of white supremacists, xenophobia has continued to rise along with the daily fear of being openly Muslim in today’s society.
Many communities have come together to express their support by acts of unity. The University of Michigan's Islamophobia Working Group and the Muslim Student Association planned and came together for a vigil Saturday to express their solidarity for the community and pay respect to the lives lost to senseless violence. The vigil was quickly broken up by police shouting for the attendees to run. With no explanation or further instructions, attendees of the vigil ran for their lives, getting trampled and dropping belongings along the way.
Just as the Muslim community in New Zealand was attacked in the safe space of their place of worship, the threat the Muslim community at the University felt was also in the safe space of their campus community.
While the reports of an active shooter threat were false alarms, the trauma that existed within the Muslim and Arab communities and their allies was certainly not a false alarm. The lack of response I saw from faculty and administration regarding the active shooter threat downplays the emotional trauma that a group of predominantly minority students felt that day. The lack of concern from these bodies made the University a place where students felt alienated rather than one where they could find solace.
Before the University had even officially issued an “all-clear” to the active shooter threats, students had already began circulating and sending memes and jokes about the incident and completely undermining the real fear felt by many of their peers, some who were still barricaded in classrooms, hiding to save their lives.
The lives of my people are worth more than a meme. The emotional toll my community has faced deserves more than a “just get over it, nothing really happened.” The reality is the emotional trauma that minority groups face will simply continue to be ignored. Had this threat affected a predominantly white group of students, the University would not have reacted the same way. Muslim students and their allies were expected to carry on as normal in the days following, whether it was going to work the next morning or taking an organic chemistry exam less than 48 hours later. Official statements from University administration were scarce and the sentiment on campus was business as usual.
While the greater campus community may not have come through for us that weekend, I realized the strength and beauty in our smaller Muslim and Arab communities here on campus. Whether it was letting people hide for safety in each other’s apartments or simply offering to talk to affected students, my communities came together in a time of need and highlighted the importance of celebrating our unity in diversity.
Maria Ulayyet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.