After the March 19 bombing in Istanbul, two Bates students studying there gained a firsthand experience of the fear and isolation a terrorist attack brings.
Zaynab Tawil and Hannah Tardie chose to study in Istanbul, Turkey, for their semesters abroad. Tardie is at Koc University on a CIEE program and Tawil studies at Bogazici University with IES.
They are the only Bates students currently studying in the country. Tawil lives only one metro stop away from the recent attacks.
The Off-Campus Study Office reached out to Tawil and Tardie two days after the bombing at the intersection of Balo Street and Istiklal Street. The explosions killed four people and wounded 36 others, according to the Guardian’s report from March 19.
Both Tardie and Tawil’s individual abroad programs first alerted Bates about the attacks on Saturday, March 19 at 8:31 a.m. and 9:37 a.m, respectively. The Off-Campus Study Office reached out to Tardie on Monday, March 21 at 2:07 p.m., after her mother contacted the office, and Tawil at 3:41 p.m.
Associate Dean of Students and Director of Off-Campus Study Stephen Sawyer was out of town and “knew they were fine,” because the program had already contacted the office.
“We rely on the programs to provide immediate emotional wellbeing and follow up since they are on-site, know the setting, can monitor the students, and have staff in place whom the students know,” Sawyer said in an email to The Student.
Unlike other colleges and universities with a larger student body, Bates does not run its own abroad programs, aside from the annual Fall Semester option. Sawyer explained that Bates carefully selects these abroad programs, especially with regard to safety, choosing schools that “have the depth of resources to respond to crises with whatever is needed, not constrained by cost issues or inadequate staff.”
However, Bates does indeed play a role in connecting with students abroad and their families in times of crisis. “I agree that Bates has a role to play in reaching out to students as they react to these awful events; however, we are not first in line,” Sawyer said.
Bates’ response to the Turkey attacks seemed, to some, however, to falter in comparison with the College’s responses to other recent incidents.
There was no contact immediately following the attacks in Istanbul—no email was sent after the bombings to the students on campus, nor to the rest of the students studying abroad.
Yet an email to all the students abroad was sent March 23 after the March 22 explosions in Brussels. No student was studying there, as Bates has no approved program in the country. There are reports of one student who was in the area for a connecting flight.
When asked why no email was sent to the students in Turkey in light of the prompt and widespread response following the incidents in Paris and Brussels, Sawyer said the explosions in Turkey were “viewed as a different scale of exposure.”
“The nature of the Bates response varies with the context of each situation, with the scale of the incident and the exposure of Bates students the key variables,” Sawyer said in a follow up email to The Student.
Dean of Students Josh McIntosh spoke to The Student regarding re-evaluating the Bates protocol for addressing such situations. While only two students were studying in Istanbul, this does not make them “any less important,” McIntosh said in a phone call with The Student. He also discussed the importance of the ground level response from the host programs, but there are things that Bates can do from afar.
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, USA Today reported that some large schools were considering implementing automated response systems to track their students.
McIntosh noted that large universities like Syracuse have around 800 students abroad at a time through their own abroad program, while Bates has around 150 students abroad per semester.
“We are able to leverage our relationship differently,” he said, due to the small size of Bates. McIntosh encourages students to discuss their grievances with him so that Bates can improve.
“France was different because we had students very much exposed to the bombs there,” Sawyer said. A Bates student was in fact at the Stade de France when the bombs went off November 13.
In an email obtained by The Student, the Off-Campus Study Office contacted the three students in Paris at 10:10 p.m. on the night of the attacks there. Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Josh McIntosh soon followed the next morning (November 14) at 9:36 a.m. with a campus-wide email. This email was then forwarded to the rest of the students studying abroad Sunday, November 15.
Before Tardie and Tawil left for Turkey, Sawyer did contact them after the January 12 bombing in Istanbul to discuss their options: continue with their plans, switch programs, or return to Bates. The office made contact with these students again February 12 to check in with them following their arrival.
“The only faculty member besides Dean Sawyer that has communicated with me was my volleyball coach, Coach DeRan,” Tardie said in an email to The Student. Coach DeRan contacted Hannah hours after the attacks. Other Bates students, abroad and on campus, reached out to Tardie as well.
Besides the contact Monday afternoon, Tardie and Tawil said there was no other contact from administration.
“It is strange to feel so connected to one part of the Bates Community, and yet feel so rejected and isolated by another,” Tardie said. “It is so easy to be isolated abroad, and the last thing I expected was to feel isolated by members of the Bates community.”
After the attacks, both Tardie and Tawil had the option to return to the U.S., but neither would receive Bates credit for their course work.
“I will absolutely finish my studies,” Tawil said.
Tardie will also remain in Istanbul to complete the semester, but the atmosphere of their abroad experience has definitely changed.
“The weekend of the attack was the emptiest I have ever seen Istanbul in my time here,” Tawil said. “It is a city of 13 million people. I live in one of the most crowded areas, popular areas. No one was outside. The streets were empty at rush hour. You looked into the eyes of your neighbors and felt absolutely nothing. It was like the fear and tension had forced the evacuation of their bodies, not just the city.”
“It is a hard dance between the survival life goes on performance and spending time to grieve, allowing yourself to fall victim to fear, to loss, to circumstance,” Tardie said.
Both students have made deeper bonds with Turkey as a result of this tragedy.
“In choosing Turkey I made the commitment to myself to join in a country that I knew was at risk,” Tawil said. “I have the privilege of being able to leave whenever I want to an arguably safer and protected community in America; I don’t believe it would be fair for me to exercise that privilege because I am ‘afraid.’ Everyone is afraid. I won’t leave the community now.”
As the threat of terrorist attacks persists, colleges and universities may need to review procedures for responding to acts of terror abroad and preparing their students to grapple with the reality of these crises.