Thursday, November 19, 2015

By Lauren O’Machel, The Daily Iowan

Some University of Iowa students were around Paris last week when tragedy struck.

Roughly 130 people were killed and more than 350 injured in a series of terrorist attacks around the French capital. UI officials said they take many courses of action to ensure students are well prepared for such events.

Downing Thomas, the dean of international programs, said many resources are available to students in crisis situations.

“We prepare students for all kinds of events,” Thomas said. “They have resources to consulate and embassy phone numbers and are able to obtain information. There is a 24/7 hotline at the international program at the University of Iowa as well.”

Students also go through an orientation program highlighting current events and global issues.

“In case students are not allowed to go to a certain location, we provide alternatives such as different locations, postponing the stay, and avoiding specific cities,” Thomas said.

The International Program office is not a stranger to dealing with emergencies.

“Back in 2011, when Egypt’s president had been ousted, there were many demonstrations and upheaval,” Thomas said. “There was one student that was in Egypt at the time and did return home.”Thomas said there are three students from the UI around Paris who are safe. He said the UI is not going to tell students they need to return home, but students can choose to do so should they feel unsafe.

Concerned parents, family, and friends reached out to those who are studying abroad and in Paris at the time during the attacks. UI junior MacKenzie McLouth, who is studying abroad in Spain, was visiting Paris at the time of the attack.

“When we got to our Metro stop and went above ground, people [still] seemed oddly calm,” McLouth said in an email.

“It wasn’t until we saw the wave of ambulances and police that we were certain something was wrong, so we hurriedly covered the 100-meter distance between the Metro and our hostel. The hostel security had increased triple-fold. We had to present our room key, checked our bags, pat downs, etc.”

McLouth was rooming along with eight other people in her hostel. She said she was constantly refreshing her CNN app for two hours and kept watching the casualties rise.

“It was absolutely sickening to know that the sirens I was hearing outside of my window were from ambulances that were rushing to the scene to tend to the wounded and dead,” McLouth said.

She said her friend informed her of a good restaurant to visit one kilometer away from her hostel called Petit Cambodge.

Fifteen people were killed at that restaurant.

“Naturally, that really shook us up, and we reflected on our night and how easily we could have decided to eat near our hostel instead of at the Champs Élysée,” McLouth said.

UI senior Sophia Schilling, the president of UI Students for Human Rights, said it was safe to say that everyone is really shaken up about the recent Paris attacks.

“We as students can do a lot [for] those who have been affected by these acts of terror,” Schilling said.

“Beyond the more obvious options of giving to charities who are providing aid or changing your Facebook profile photo in solidarity, education is our most powerful tool. I would say the best thing you can do to be supportive is to educate yourself about why and how these events are taking place.”