On Sept. 17, Georgia Tech campus police shot Scott Schultz, a suicidal college student armed with a knife. The shooting raised outrage from fellow students, some people protesting against the police while others sided with them. The week or two of outrage has been followed by silence, since school shootings have more or less become a norm in American society. But for those who come from abroad to study in the U.S., the shooting is a whole another story with entirely different implications altogether. I interviewed five exchange students studying at Georgia colleges to understand what they think of the Georgia Tech shooting and college campus safety in the U.S.
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
Mouzen: "I'm a sophomore from Palestine studying biology at Georgia State University (GSU)."
Leen: "I'm a BA major studying at GSU. I'm from Syria and came to the U.S. for family reasons. The hardest part about the move was learning to blend into society and the language barrier. Nothing was easy. I felt like I had no life, because I had to do twice the hard work in school to get good grades. The good thing was that my family was by my side the whole time."
Bahija: "I'm from Germany, and my major at GSU is economics, junior year. I came here because I wanted a different experience and to be confident and independent. My brother studied in U.S. before me, so I was bound to the Georgia area. The hardest part was all the paperwork and visa applications, insurance, etc... The easiest was notification of the process. I was terrified during the process, because there's a chance of being rejected as an applicant, but my family was supportive, even though they were just as nervous."
Houda: "I'm from Damascus, Syria, and I'm a junior studying speech communications at GSU. I chose to study abroad because I have family here. I started at GPC [Perimeter College] because it was closer to home. The easiest part of coming here was booking the tickets, because they're just a click away, but the hardest part was change in routine — trying to find a balance between the norms I've been taught and the new ones here."
Firdous: "I'm from Sudan and attend Agnes Scott as a sophomore going into nursing. My father is American, and we have family here, so I decided to study in the U.S. because the education is stronger here than in Sudan. I chose my college based on location, diversity, reputation and student reviews. The application process and essay writing was most difficult, and there wasn't exactly and easy part because I was leaving my family to study here. But my family was really happy I could study here, and they wanted me to get a good education so my siblings could follow my path."
2. What would you hear about America in the news from your homeland? Any mention of gun violence?
Leen: "I used to live in the U.S. when I was younger, so I don't remember much about Syrian news."
Bahija: "We would hear about the election, the shootings, celebrity news and we even discussed American gun laws in high school. Yes, and I felt unsafe. It scares me, and I would like for the states to have stricter gun control and not let just anyone buy a gun. On campus though, I feel safe because people are me seem like normal college students and also because of the security cameras."
Houda: "Most people are split between hating America and blaming it for everything while others adore it and love every single thing that is related to it. The news [in Syria] usually covered America's interference with Middle East affairs and how America only addresses the conflict between Israel and Palestine when Israeli soldiers are hurt, but it does not utter a word when Palestinian families and kids are killed. I moved to U.S. when I was still a high school sophomore, so American news wasn't really my thing back then. I had enough with what was going on in my country. Either way, campus violence was not something I heard of at the time."
Firdous: "There isn't much about U.S. in Sudanese news, but a majority of the people in Sudan dream to come to the U.S. We might know the crime rate is higher in the U.S. than in Sudan, but no one mentioned campus violence."
3. How do you feel about guns?
Mouzen: "I'm against them. Guns are allowed in my homeland, too, but I'm still against them overall."
Leen: "I don't think guns should be allowed in schools, because it's a place a person can study and hang out with friends, not a battle or war zone!"
Houda: "I'm not a big fan of them. I don't mind them when we're in a shooting range, and it's all fun and games. But the combination of guns and daily life terrifies me. I'm not either for or against gun rights. I'm more towards stricter rules for gun permits."
Firdous: "I think it's a bad idea to have a gun in general, but when everyone is carrying a gun, it becomes a necessity."
4. How safe do you feel on your college campus?
Leen: "I feel safe with the cops on GSU campus. We are very good friends."
Houda: "I feel normal. I'm usually only on campus when I have class, so my head is pretty occupied with what's going on in the lecture [than] to think about the possibility of something going sideways."
Firdous: "I feel very safe."
5. Before coming to the U.S., did you know that guns are permitted on some college campuses, including all Georgia campuses?
Leen: "No one told me guns are allowed on campus. After guns were allowed, I've had second thoughts about my campus safety.If I had known, I would have considered another option [besides studying in U.S.]."
Bahija: "I didn't know that. It's a learning environment, so why... Knowing this would have influenced my decision if a lot if I had heard about it before."
Houda: "No, I did not. And this year, apparently, students in my university can have their guns with them on campus, which is terrifying. Even though I know many professors tried to take the humor route on this matter, you could clearly see it was dry humor. However, I don't think knowing about this beforehand would have changed my decision to come study here."
Firdous: "I didn't know that until now. I think I would still come to study, because that's what was meant to happen."
6. Do you think guns should be allowed on campus? Why or why not?
Mouzen: "I'm 100 percent against guns on campus, and I do agree with gun control because no one has the right to put a gun in someone's face.
Bahija: "No! We have police officers all around, and if anything happens, they should handle it. I don't think some people understand that you can seriously skill someone with a gun because of self-protection, which is sometimes not justified, because you could have pepper spray or something instead."
Houda: "I don't think so, no. College students are very emotional people, and the things we go through on a daily basis are too much, sometimes. I don't trust everyone to know how to hold their frustration in when the dark times hit."
Firdous: "I don't think they should be allowed. A college campus should be a safe haven for everyone, and a college student may make wrong decisions, especially if stressed."
7. How did you feel about the Georgia Tech shooting?
Mouzen: "It was not right. No one should have the right to shoot anyone, no matter the gender."
Leen: "I think it was horrible. They shouldn't have done that [shot Schultz] and should've talked the student out of the situation."
Bahija: "I was sad, because I heard the student was mentally sick or something, and wondering why did [Schultz] have to die... I think the police should be sufficiently trained to handle someone with a knife without killing them."
Houda: "I have very mixed feelings about the matter. I'm not that informed, but I heard the student was suicidal and had already written a couple suicide notes, which, if that's the truth, then who is to say the police were wrong about shooting him. Who is to say he wouldn't have hurt someone else? Yes, it's tragic how the events played out, but the media played a huge role in playing with our emotions when the news was first published, and everyone was quick to say 'the police shot an LGBT student,' and almost everyone stopped there, which is not really fair for anyone."
Firdous: "It's very sad what happened, and I'm angry because the student just had a knife and the officer should have handled the situation differently, like shooting the student's leg or taken the knife. I think authorities need to step and address the issue with police shootings."
8. How do you feel about the American police? What about your campus cops?
Mouzen: "I have no problem with cops on campus. They're all fine and sweet to me, and I moved here like six years ago and didn't have any difficulty with cops."
Leen: "I feel sometimes they do what is easiest for them, without thinking of the victim's family and loved ones. However, not all cops are that way."
Bahija: "Sometimes, they're too rough and some actions are questionable, like with the shooting."
Houda: "I am indifferent about them. I'd like to think that if I ever need their help, they will be there to help and protect me. Every group of people has good and bad, so I don't think the good should be overlooked because we only hear about the bad. My campus cops are nice and friendly, and they greet me sometimes when I walk by. They have also been helpful when I'm lost or have a question."
Firdous: "The more I see police shooting civilians, the more I feel frightened by their presence and doubt their mission is to protect people. They've become more of a threat than safety provider."
9. Have you ever feared the police? If so, why? Do you ever fear they will shoot you?
Houda: "Every time I see a cop car, my heart sinks a little. I got a speeding ticket almost two years ago, and since then, I get scared seeing their flashing lights. I don't really fear cops shooting me, but sometimes I do, if the situation seems sketchy. But I don't go out much nowadays, so my only encounter with cops are when they drive past me. Back in Syria, I never thought about a cop shooting me."
Firdous: "I have always been cautious near cops, and now I'm more conscious of their presence and feel the urge to get away from them."
10. Do you feel you will continue to live in American after completing your study abroad?
Leen: "Yes, I will."
Bahija: "I would like to go home. I never felt this way in my home country because we never heard of news about shootings and campus gun control like in the West!"Houda: "I honestly don't know... I tell myself that I want to move back, but I'm also scared that by the time I move, I will have a whole new adjustment to go through, so it may be easier to just stay here. But eventually, yes, I want to move back."
Firdous: "I don't know.. It's hard to tell."
11. Is there anything you would like people to understand or know?
Leen: "Just follow the rules, and if things don't work out, try solving the problem in a lawful way."
Bahija: "We are all humans and have the right to live a life of dignity."
Houda: "Don't take the media for granted. They care about money more than delivering the whole truth. There is always good in the world, even if we don't see it that often.