By Colin Smith, Contributor
Shortly after 12:00 pm, Andrea “Buffy” Satchwell ’15 sat in a public van on her way to downtown Nairobi, Kenya, until it stopped across Westgate Mall. As local Kenyans disputed in Kiswahili, an older gentleman finally informed her, “there’s been a robbery.”
On Saturday, September 21, 2013 after police arrived 30 minutes later, they realized the Somalia-based terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, attacked Westgate. Cited as a retaliation for Kenya’s invasion of Somalia in October 2011, the terrorist group hopes to push Kenyan forces out of their former territories by moving the focus to Kenya.
During the mall’s four day assault, Kalamazoo College students were isolated at their host-family’s homes, which are scattered across the city’s metro region. Nicole Caddow ’15 only lived a few streets away from Westgate Mall and she would go to sleep hearing gunshots and helicopters.
As we students were given orders to not leave home, we occupied our time with the Kenyan media which displayed corpses and blood on the mall’s steps. As the cameras rolled, the television networks reported at least 72 people were killed.
After a full 24 hours, Hannah Heenan ’15 called the Center of International Programs (CIP) to know their plan of action, but with no answer she left a voicemail. When she called back she was greeted with the question, “So are you in Senegal?”
When mentioning the terrorist attack, the CIP staff member responded, “Oh, I haven’t checked the news yet, it’s early.”
Despite it being the largest terrorist attack in Kenya since the 1998 US Embassy bombing, we expected communication, or at least the acknowledgement of the attack.
The study abroad program directors from the University of Nairobi eased our anxieties while they scrambled to see if their loved ones were okay. Given their detached position from the crisis and their duty to follow news in given study abroad regions, we expected the CIP to be informed of the attack the day it happened.
Failing our expectations, the CIP’s only responded until resuming its business day, Monday, September 23, which was the third day of the siege.
All our of claims were immediately dismissed as emotional. The lack of respect and contact contributed to the already high anxieties, ultimately prompting three students to leave the program.
After the threat of being sued by at least one parent, Provost Michael McDonald intervened and personally apologized. Soon afterwards Dr. Joe Brockington decided our parents would receive weekly updates, compensating for this lack of communication.
Although the CIP would acknowledge our stress, they lacked the comprehension of what we were experiencing. When Heenan replied with a page long e-mail regarding the CIP’s handling of the situation, she was responded with one sentence asking if she would like to see a counselor.
Please warmly welcome our friends back to campus.