20 students gather to honor victims of Sri Lanka terrorist attack

Sri Lanka
Hashini Weerasekera, above, had plans to visit family in Sri Lanka this summer. But those plans were cut short after an April 21 terrorist attack killed more than 250 people in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo. Photo by Jack Clendening

Sophomore Hashini Weerasekera planned to visit her family in Kandy, Sri Lanka this summer – but that was before a terrorist attack targeting churches and hotels April 21 in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, killed at least 250 people.

“I can’t go anymore. My grandmother told me it’s too dangerous,” Weerasekera, a psychology major, told The Panther. “It’s really hard being away from my family.”

Weerasekera, who has family in Sri Lanka and Northern California, is one of many who are feeling the impact of the Easter Sunday terrorist attack in Sri Lanka. Weerasekera’s family in Sri Lanka were left unharmed, she told The Panther, but is shaken by the tragedy, which has been claimed by the Islamic State, according to The New York Times.

In an April 25 memorial in the Fish Interfaith Chapel to honor those killed in the attack, Gail Stearns, dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel, addressed an audience of about 20.

“It’s heartbreaking, because we know that the Quran does not advocate for this type of violence. We know that that is not the true act of a faithful person at all,” Stearns said. “It is said that religion gets tied up in what many would argue is too often an issue of politics.”

Weerasekera’s parents immigrated to the United States from Sri Lanka before she was born.

“I am so immensely proud of my culture and my people,” she said at the event. “It is heartbreaking to see my people go through such a difficult time.”

The memorial, which lasted about 45 minutes, gave students and faculty an opportunity to share their thoughts about the Sri Lanka attack as well as their opinions on moving forward from the tragedy.

Commemorative events in the wake of tragedies, like the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in October 2018 or the New Zealand mosque shooting in March, have been held at Chapman, as they serve “people who are hurting or for those who want to show solidarity,” Stearns said to The Panther

The Pittsburgh memorial was attended by dozens of students and at least 50 students attended to honor those killed in New Zealand.

But Weerasekera told The Panther that she wished people would “show up for each other” in times of violence.

“People aren’t paying attention to the news,” she said. “Even if you aren’t impacted by something like this personally, be there for the people who are.”

Weerasekera was joined by her friend Elizabeth La Scalza, a sophomore sociology major, who she met in an anthropology class. La Scalza told The Panther that the small turnout for the commemorative event was in part due to “Chapman’s culture.”

“People oftentimes create a separation from people of a tragedy to justify their lack of involvement,” she said. “People will disregard it because the people impacted are dark-skinned people. There are values of our culture that subconsciously involve race.”

Incidents like the Notre Dame fire are on social media for days and heavily covered by news outlets, La Scalza said.

“No one is talking about Sri Lanka,” she said.

Stearns told The Panther that she views commemorative events as a personal experience for the students who attend, but hopes that they will encourage public dialogue about global problems on campus. Stearns told The Panther that students will be hosting a panel about the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict April 30, as an effort to engage students in open dialogue.

“We can’t be afraid to study these issues and the root causes of this type of violence,” she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to the incorrect place of worship at which the March New Zealand shooting took place. It was a mosque, not a synagogue. This information has been corrected.