On March 16, a 28-year-old Australian man walked into the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand where he opened fire on worshipers who had gathered for Friday prayers. The man then drove to another mosque three miles away in Linwood where the attack continued.
By the end of the massacre the death toll had risen to 50 people. An additional 50 people remain hospitalized with injuries. The ages of the victims range from two to over 60 years old.
As the funerals for the victims began on March 20, the Marywood community gathered in the Upper Main Lounge in the Nazareth Student Center to discuss how the university can move forward following the massacres.
The forum included discussions on the impact of hate crimes on communities and actions communities can take to combat it.
Event facilitators included Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Dr. Melinda Krokus, Director of Diversity Efforts Dr. Lia Palmiter, Title IX Coordinator Dr. Cornelia Sewell-Allen and Assistant Professor of History Dr. Adam Shprintzen.
Sewell-Allen said it was important to have this discussion because of its impact on regional, national and international communities.
“This event has had such a profound impact on not only the world but also students and faculty,” said Sewell-Allen “So, it was important for us to embrace our core values to talk about how we as a community can prevent or respond to acts of hate.”
Krokus, who specializes in Islamic studies and is a practicing Muslim, said worshipers can at times feel vulnerable while in mosques.
“When you enter a mosque it is a big open room where people are sitting on the floor or standing,” said Krokus. “Because of this it is easy to feel like a sitting duck.”
Krokus went on to say that education can be used to combat acts of hate.
“Your education is the most empowering thing,” she said.”There’s so much one person can do but if you can teach people to accept those they demonize or don’t understand, that can make such an importance impact.”
The shooter is alleged to have targeted these mosques specifically because of their work with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) which is an organization that provides aid to refugees. Shprintzen said this massacre hit close to home because of his association with the organization.
“HIAS was actually the organization that brought my family to the United States as refugees around World War I,” said Shprintzen. “Just thinking about the same sort of spirit they met when they showed up is not so dissimilar from the ways which people talk about Syrian refugees now.”
Shprintzen also spoke about the issue of rhetoric going without repercussions. He asked that those in attendance pay closer attention to rhetoric and call out rhetoric that disrespects another faith or culture.
During the attack the shooter used a body-mounted camera to live stream the video on Facebook. Facebook took down the video 29 minutes after it began. After the video was removed, an additional 1.5 million versions of the video were uploaded onto the site, which Facebook said were also taken down. Palmiter said she was struck by the live stream.
“It was live streamed for 17 minutes,” said Palmiter. “The slaughter was happening and not one person made a telephone call to the authorities for 17 minutes.”
Two of the speakers also presented possible ways to begin a broader dialogue about other faiths and cultures on campus. Krokus suggested the idea of a meditation group and Palmiter presented the idea of a diversity circle.
University President Sr. Mary Persico spoke out against the attack in an email to the Marywood community.
“Again, our world has been forever changed by the unfathomable hate inflicted on innocent lives,” Persico said in her email. “Marywood University stands in solidarity with the Christchurch victims, the Muslim community and New Zealand.”
Persico also said any acts hate perpetrated on campus would not condoned or tolerated.
“We must continue to fight against those who attempt to dismantle our communities with hate and be a safe place for those who are targeted,” said Persico.