Words in Action: Students Respond to New Zealand Shooting With Letters and Education

The mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday, March 15, has prompted action and education in the Masters community.
Middle and Upper School students have written approximately 150 letters of support to members of the Christchurch community and dedicated school meetings to learning about Islam and Islamophobia.

Ellen Cowhey, Upper School history and religion teacher, has been coordinating with the students who are spearheading the letter-writing campaign led by Parsa Keyvani '19. Cowhey acknowledged the feeling of helplessness these tragic events often trigger. “This is something we can do: we can reach out and say we are sad with you, we are crying with you, we feel for you. I think that helps us keep our humanity and keep that connection.”

The notes will soon be mailed to the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre, where the two shootings took place. Amina Choudhry ’19, one of the students involved, translated some of the letters into Urdu. Urdu is the national language of Pakistan, and many of the victims were Pakistani Muslims. “It was a nice way that I was able to contribute,” said Choudhry.

In addition to the letter-writing initiative, on Tuesday, April 2, Choudhry, Youssef Aly '19 and Abdoul Bah '19 addressed the Upper School community during morning meeting and shared personal experiences about the impact Islamophobia has had on them.

“I definitely felt very vulnerable, but I felt that it was really important to share my story,” said Choudhry. She hopes that by speaking about this unfortunate reality to fellow students, the issue “would be less distant from the Masters community.”

During the same morning gathering, the students read the names of the 50 victims who were killed and had an opportunity to listen to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s speech in the wake of the event. “Her response was so clear, and so immediate, and so supportive, that it just seemed like a good educational moment to let students see the video, to see that power for good,” explained Cowhey.

During two different morning meetings at the Middle School, Upper School students shared an age-appropriate version of their presentations with their younger peers and Lynn Salehi, Associate Head of Middle School, offered facts and figures about Islam. “One of the best ways to combat hate is to understand,” said Salehi. “I shared a little bit [about Islam], so they can educate themselves and they can be a power for good by going out in the word and sharing what they know about what Islam is and isn’t.”

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