University of Miami students in Paris reported safe after terror attacks, detail experience

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All 10 of the University of Miami students studying abroad in Paris have been reported safe following the attacks, according to Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Whitely.

Gunmen and suicide bombers coordinated attacks throughout the City of Light on Friday, setting off bombs and shooting hostages. Targets included restaurants, a soccer stadium and the Bataclan, a theatre and national heritage site where a concert was being held. More than 120 people were killed.

Two UM students, senior Jorge Alvarez and senior Jorge Dominicis, were in Paris when the shootings occurred.    They learned of the shootings while eating at a restaurant close to the violence. Neither is part of the study abroad group in Paris.

“I went on CNN, and it started off like, ‘Two Dead in Paris,’ then it went to, like, ‘Bombings Next to Soccer Game’ and then it just kept flowing and flowing,” Alvarez said over the phone. “‘Two dead,’ ‘Sixteen dead,’ ‘Forty dead with 60 hostages,’ So we looked to see where it is and we realized we’re literally down the street. We were no joke one block away from one of the cafes that got shot up. We were just kind of freaking out, panicking – I was, at least – and you could just tell that everyone was super tense in the restaurant.”

The duo didn’t want to leave the restaurant amid the violence, but the establishment legally had to close by midnight. They had to take a cab in order to get back home.

“That’s when I really started freaking out because we were in the area,” Alvarez said. “And the weird part was, every guy I walked by, you just didn’t know because you knew there were people at large. So you would turn your head and look back and they were looking back at you and everyone was just really freaking out.”

UM President Julio Frenk took to Twitter Friday to condemn the violence.

“The attacks in France are an assault on all we uphold,” Frenk said. “The UM family affirms the dignity of all people and stands in solidarity with France.”

Students at the University of Miami expressed their concern toward the incident. Areeba Imam, a junior and president of the Muslim Students of the University of Miami (MSUM), shared how her heart sunk upon hearing the news.

“My immediate reactions were disgust, alarm and sorrow,” Imam said. “Yet another inhumane act had taken the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians.”

Lander McGinn, a senior and president of the Francophone Association of Ibis Students, reacted to the killings with “complete shock,” but also worried about future study abroad opportunities.

“I’m very nervous actually, because I am planning to study abroad in Paris next semester,” McGinn said.

According to Devika Milner, director of UM Study Abroad, the school has a system in place that helps maintain student safety. A software called red24 logs the itinerary information – like current country, length of stay and return date to the U.S. – of every student, faculty and administrator who goes abroad.

Every UM-affiliated person going abroad is required to register with red24. This way, the university can contact people in specific regions. Only certain UM administrators have access to the information in red24.

Despite the happenings in Paris, Milner says that studying abroad is a worthwhile experience.

“I believe it’s more important than ever for students to study abroad,” she said. “It is how we eliminate prejudice and hate, learn to coexist with other cultures, respect different beliefs, and uphold important human values. For our students who are abroad in France now, we are glad they are safe. Together with our French university partners, our priority is to provide our students with the support that they need during a stressful situation.”

McGinn, aware of tensions between the Muslim and French communities, worries about the potential backlash.

“I’m concerned this will only dig the hole deeper, so to say,” he said. “I’m concerned for French backlash against Muslim citizens not associated with the atrocious acts of the terrorists.”

Imam also fears the backlash against Muslims, but on a global scale. Regardless, she said MSUM condemns the acts committed in Paris and will express support for the individuals who have suffered.

“As a community of Muslim students, we will also actively engage in alleviating misconceptions about our faith by educating those around us and by allowing people to get to know us personally,” she said.

To the families of victims, McGinn expresses his sincerest condolences.

“The French people are strong and will find comfort in each other and in the three tenants they have built their country: liberté, égalité, fraternité (freedom, equality, fraternity),” he said.

Julie Harans contributed to this report

Featured image courtesy Pixabay user fill

CORRECTION: Jorge Alvarez was previously labeled as a junior.