No Direction Home: CIP Lacks Communication with Kalamazoo College Students During Kenya’s Biggest Terrorist Attack Since 1998

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.

4 thoughts on “No Direction Home: CIP Lacks Communication with Kalamazoo College Students During Kenya’s Biggest Terrorist Attack Since 1998

  1. Brennan T. Watch

    What? The center of incompetent people (CIP) not doing its job correctly? This is new to me.

  2. Phoebe Solomon

    Good on you for writing this. The CIP’s gross mishandling of a situation as horrific as this one is something the students, parents, and the entire K college community should know about. The way they treat students (and worried parents, for that matter) must be re examined.

  3. Deborah Tilbury Shiemke

    As the parent of a student currently studying in Nairobi, Kenya, I find this very disconcerting and disturbing. As I communicated with my daughter during these tense few days, I reassured her that the CIP and Kalamazoo College had her safety in mind and was certainly working with local officials to make sure it was safe for students to remain in Kenya, and that I felt confident that the College would bring the students home if they were in danger. I am alarmed to find that not only was the CIP not in contact with the students, but they weren’t even aware there was an ongoing crisis situation.

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