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The library attack should never have happened, how will the university respond?

Content warning: racial abuse and violence.

I remember the amount of reluctance I felt whilst applying to university. My high school provided me with a lot of support and guidance which I could rely on to choose how I would want the next three/four years of my life to be lived. However, like any other individual my age, I was gripped with anxiety-ridden thoughts.

Would my grades be good enough? How would I, as an international student, set myself apart from other candidates who were applying? How do I know that the university I apply to, and later on, select, is the “right fit” for me? How can I be sure, without even having visited campus, that this is an environment I’ll thrive in?

The questions above are just a few of the things that I took into consideration. The prospect of moving to another country, meeting new people, getting to study a course which interests me, and essentially starting my life afresh was like a drug. I woke up every single day, nervous and excited while checking my Common App and UCAS updates. “What’s meant to happen will happen,” my parents and guidance counsellors constantly reassured me, and I smiled in the knowledge that their many years of insight and wisdom must make it true.

Negativity has a habit of creeping up into your life when things are going too well, though. The years during which I was applying to university saw a rise of campus attacks at various different universities around the world. According to the Campus Safety and Security (CSS) website from the United States Department of Justice, 37,573 criminal offences, and 1,908 hate crimes were reported across 11,013 university campuses in the United States during this time. Imagine hearing about these statistics as a high school student who is excited to pursue higher education. Imagine being a victim to this kind of behaviour.

Perhaps, whilst applying, another consideration I should have made was regarding where I would get treated with the most respect. Would the university I apply to be a place where I, as a brown woman, will be treated the same as my peers? Will I be told “go back to my country” when I arrive in a foreign land for the first time? Would people make fun of my accent, or threaten to kill me if the only thing I was doing was merely existing?

Do these factors outweigh the other amazing things universities offer, like a degree or a chance to study at a world renowned institution? Should my want for success override my ability to survive?

I was able to somehow push these feelings down within me, though. Like all of my peers, I was faced with acceptances and rejections from universities. I basked in the glory of knowing that the next four years of my life would be filled with gaining a deeper understanding of a subject which I love and want to pursue for many years to come. I was excited at the prospect of exploring a completely different country.

The attack that a University of Edinburgh student faced a few days ago, however, made me feel like I was back to being a high school student, as well as making me feel saddened and shocked at the prospect of this happening to me. But this time, it didn’t happen in Berkeley, California, or Austin, Texas. It happened in Scotland. It happened in Edinburgh.

It happened in front of the Main Library – an area which every single Edinburgh student, including myself, visits every day. The student who was attacked was eating dinner outside of the library. In his post on Meadows Share, he stated that, “the boys made [him] feel like they were hyenas circling their prey, egging each other on as their laughter and threats filled the air.”

How many attacks like this must happen for universities and other prestigious institutions to take action to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their students and staff? What will it take? More racial attacks like this one on innocent individuals? I hope the university issues a statement and lets their students know what action they will take to protect their students.

Most of my friends who are international students and identify with the BAME community are scared to enter campus again. Facebook groups like “POC Walking Group” are being created so that BAME students don’t feel afraid to walk by themselves on campus. This should not be the case for an institution that prides itself for being international, inclusive, and diverse. I hope, if not for our safety, at least for the safety of other residents in Edinburgh, the University is able to issue a statement as to how it plans to safeguard both students and staff, BAME or not, going forward.

Image credit: kaysgeog via flickr