Kansas Shooting Aftermath: How Students in US Universities Feel

With a rise in reported hate crimes, how safe do students from different counties feel in the US?

Updated01 Mar 2017, 04:23 AM IST
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4 min read

It was regular Wednesday evening – we had just finished with our lectures for the day, and decided to hit the local bar close to Harvard Square. The conversations, as usual, were centred around US politics and the impact it would have on the world economy.

We were a few hours into our intellectually stimulating discussions when I saw a newsflash on my phone. An Indian techie had been shot dead at a ‘bar’ in Olathe, Kansas.

As I read through the entire bulletin, it became clear that this was a hate crime. The irony of the situation made me anxious, as I thought that it could have been me instead of Srinavas Kuchibhotla.

The words “fear” and “uncertainty” are not something you would associate with students studying at Harvard University. All of us have worked extremely hard to get here, and expect to go back to flourishing careers after our graduation.

However, over the course of last three months, there have been a number of instances which make us feel a little insecure.

Just last week, I was in New York city, and was denied entry into an upscale hotel on Times Square because of my identity. On the eve of Republic Day, a few of us (Indian students) were dining at a restaurant at Cambridge when we found ourselves at the mercy of an angry server.

The Kansas shooting incident is a chilling reminder of the fact that we are ‘outsiders’ in this country, and at every step we have to constantly be on our guard.

Deep down, I would want to believe that my fears are misplaced and I am simply overreacting to these stray incidents. However, at the back of my mind, I am still cautious of every move I make. I have started shaving my beard. This is a big lifestyle change for me, considering my laziness.

We all refrain from talking in Hindi in a crowd, as people here have very little context, and might mistake us for some other nationality (which was the case in the incident at Kansas).

Given the recent executive order denying entry to people from certain nationalities, Indian students here are thinking twice about travelling abroad, specially for student organised treks in the upcoming spring break.

Some of the Indian students who are graduating this year and have already secured jobs here in the US, are now reconsidering their decision to stay back. The ‘Great American Dream’ is certainly under threat for some of us here at the campus.

Moreover, our parents back home are worried about our safety and security. Thanks to 24*7 news coverage of this incident, my parents feel I am also in the line of fire. I have to constantly remind them that I am a student in the US and not in war-torn Syria.

I have also received calls in the last one week from a few applicants who wanted to know if it was safe to enrol this year. All I have to say to them is that Cambridge is a liberal town and is a ‘largely’ safe place. But I cannot say the same about other conservative cities in US.

This might not be a good time to explore other parts of the country as there is definitely some anger on the streets, which is fuelled by remarks made before and after the presidential elections. The bigots and racists have certainly got a shot in the arm after Trump took office.

This certainly holds true for the right wing back home in India, and my stay here in US has made me appreciate what is means to be in the minority.

The fear is not only limited to the students but has also spooked the world-renowned Indian faculty at Harvard. Professor Amitabh Chandra (Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy) told me that he seen more ugliness in the past three months than in the three decades he has spent in the US. He said that many other faculty members shared this view.

He also felt that the silence of President on this issue is telling, for it indicates that the ugliness goes beyond one person or administration. This is alarming for all of us: immigrants and non-immigrants alike, who think of the United States as a beacon for hope and tolerance.

While growing up I was told that every cloud has a silver lining. This is true for this incident too. My ‘white’ friend from Kansas, who has worked in India for a number of years, attended the memorial service in Olathe and stood in solidarity with the mourning family.

She told me that now is the time for her to educate people about the Indian culture and traditions so that such incidents can be prevented in future.

Our Dean at the Harvard Kennedy School, Douglas Elemendorf, has assured me that the institution will take strict measures to ensure safety of all international students at the campus, and will make sure that the diversity is preserved at the University.

My American course mates have also come forward to share their deep anger over this issue and have decided to write to their elected representatives to draw their attention on the matter. All this gives me a lot of hope, but it would be naïve to say that I won’t be uneasy the next time I visit a bar here in US.

Video Producer: Sonal Gupta

Video Editor: Mohd Ibrahim

(Prateek Kanwal is a World Bank Scholar currently pursuing his Masters in Public Policy at the Harvard University. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Published: 28 Feb 2017, 02:43 PM IST
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