Berkeley: Irish student community united in grief and shock

Laura Harmon: ‘There can’t have been a parent in Ireland, or around the world, who didn’t want to hear their son or daughter’s voice on learning of the deaths of students in Berkeley’

Wreaths laid at the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley, California, where Irish students died on Tuesday.  Photograph: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Wreaths laid at the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley, California, where Irish students died on Tuesday. Photograph: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

 

There can’t have been a parent in Ireland, or around the world, who didn’t want to hear their son or daughter’s voice on learning of the deaths of students in Berkeley on Tuesday. As the news came in to the Union of Students in Ireland, an instant cloud of anxiousness and sadness came over the whole student movement as we began to piece together the story.

The scale of the incident is horrendous, and we can only begin to imagine the grief and despondency among the families, friends and loved ones of those who lost their lives. As a student movement, we’re united in the hope that they will find support and comfort in the coming days and weeks, and our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with all who have been affected by this tragedy.

We’re heartened by the efforts being made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the department to assist the families and keep those at home informed.

The J1 visa programme on which many of the students appear to have travelled is a brilliant and valuable thing. Student work abroad programmes are not unique to Ireland, but the J1 is perhaps uniquely loved by students here, and for thousands the trek to the US is a rite of passage.

Travel broadens the mind for students and provides excitement and challenges. They find accommodation, work and pretty soon find one another to share in their experience of life in the US. Most return with life lessons learned and fabulous stories to tell to families and friends. It takes courage to embark on such a journey.

Not managed

Over 150,000 students have availed of the J1 visa since its inception and over 8,000 students go on J1s each summer from Ireland. The programme has been invaluable in deepening and strengthening the relationship between the United States and Ireland and has created generations of ambassadors between the countries.

Our contact with the Irish-American community today provides an insight into a community in as much grief and shock as we are. There’s concern that Tuesday morning’s tragedy could result in victim-blaming – which is, in my view, already happening in some prominent stateside newspapers.

Distasteful

New York Times

The focus of all the Irish community is, and should be, on mourning this loss of life. The thoughts, sympathies and prayers of people across Ireland and Irish America are with the families of the deceased and injured.

Our profound hope is that those who are injured will make a full recovery and that the Irish student community in the US will unite to support those families in their grief, and that the friends and classmates of those affected by the loss of members of their community will come together to comfort one another.

We hope our students, friends, classmates and loved ones on J1s across the US will have a rewarding experience this summer and come home safe.

Laura Harmon is president of the Union of Students in Ireland

Students affected by this issue can talk to their students’ union for information on counselling and supports

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