Vigil honors 148 student lives lost in Kenya attack

Delaney Ryan/Daily
Students gather for a candlelight vigil on the Diag Wednesday night to honor the 148 killed in the terrorist attack on Garrisa College in Kenya. Buy this photo

By Samiha Matin, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 8, 2015

Nearly 100 University students and faculty members gathered Wednesday night on the Diag to honor the 148 lives lost in the al-Shabaab militant group attack on Garissa College in Kenya.

At the candlelight vigil, which was hosted by the African Students Association, attendees held candles for 148 seconds of silence — representing each life lost — before they stood on the steps of the Hatcher Graduate Library to recite poems and speeches. Though the students believed the number to be 148, conflicting news reports listed the number of deaths as both 147 and 148.

The victims of the attack in Kenya were mostly students. This was not the first time al-Shabaab attacked Kenya. In 2013, the militant group killed 69 people in Nairobi's Westgate Mall. The attacks increased after Kenyan military troops were sent to Somalia, al-Shabaab's base, four years ago to fight against the group.

At the vigil, many students voiced their concerns about the lack of media coverage of the attack. In a speech, LSA senior Olubisi Ajetunmobi, president of the African Students Association, attempted to personify the students whose lives were lost, reflecting on the trending Twitter hashtag #148isnotjustanumber.

“The students were brothers, sisters, friends and loved ones whose lives were cut short by this murderous act,” Ajetunmobi said. “While the world stands by and ignores what is happening, we need to remember that 148 is not a number.”

Ajetunmobi said the relatively small turnout at the vigil reflects the need for students to know more about international events than what they can find on Twitter.

“We don't want people to forget the issues and simply move from one hashtag to the next,” Ajetunmobi said. “Hashtags don't save lives unless we do something about them."

Social Work student Cynthia Simekha also spoke of the lack of media coverage of the murders. She said events such as the January 2015 massacre of 12 people at the offices of the French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo garnered immediate international attention, whereas the murders in Kenya attracted sufficiently less media coverage.

"We go on with our lives, be happy and get our degrees, but what for?" Simekha said. "Two-hundred girls from Nigeria are still missing. Forty-three children from Mexico are still gone. What do we do? Nothing. This isn't a one-time incident. It's been happening for years."

At the event, LSA freshman Davina Buruchara spoke about three of the students who were murdered as they ran back to save their friends inside the college building. She also recited a poem about the experience, which was written by her friend from Kenya.

"How many of you dream of passing exams with honors and getting an internship?" Buruchara said. "Many of us also have dreams about getting married soon. They also had dreams just like us. But now they are all gone."

Trey Boynton, director of the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, said it is important for the University community to come together during such tragedies and help one another.

"Events like these allow people to come together in a safe space to express their grief and emotions and not feel isolated," Boynton said.

Ajetunmobi also emphasized the importance of students having safe spaces to talk about these events.

"The University needs to create spaces for all students," Ajetunmobi said. "The University should take time to learn about the students and create resources for them."