Campus response to aftermath of the Paris attacks


Andrea Schlitt

It was 9:45 p.m. when the reports came flooding in from Paris. A hundred hostages at a concert venue, hundreds shot at local restaurants, and bombings outside the French sports stadium called the “Stade de France”. The city was filled with terror.

It was sixth period when a student rushed into room B212. The steady flow of conversation and pencils scribbling down French verb tenses stopped as the student told French teacher Melanie Lhomme that there had been attacks in Paris. Lhomme’s mind drifted to the safety of her family and friends in Paris, wondering if they were okay.

The series of attacks carried out on Nov. 13 were acts of terror later confirmed to be committed by ISIS. French President Francois Hollande has declared a state of emergency as a result. Students and staff at M

“Nous sommes Paris,” French for “we are Paris”, is written on the window of French class B212. French teachers spent time in class discussing the impact of the attacks socially and culturally. Photo by Andrea Schlitt.

VHS who were connected found different ways of showing their support. Some looked toward simple actions like Facebook messages, while others attended local events and wrote letters to relatives.

Breaking the news

Lhomme remembers walking by the Bataclan concert hall when she previously traveled to France, but the connection to the attacks didn’t completely register in her mind until her husband recognized the name. He would visit the concert hall as a high school student, and the band that was playing at Bataclan the night of the attacks is one of his favorites.

“[My husband] has actually been inside the concert hall and has all of these memories of what the interior is like and feelings of what it used to be like with a concert there,” Lhomme said. “It just contrasted with the horror of what happened […] It was just really shocking.”

After finding out that her family and friends were all safe, Lhomme began to reflect upon the events and look for ways to educate her French students. According to Lhomme, French philosophers were the first to emphasize basic human rights, the values of liberty and equality.

“If they can attack Paris, then what the whole world loves about Paris and what France symbolizes has also been attacked.”

In her French classes, she also addressed the effects of the attacks: the backlash faced by the Muslim community. Upon reading a French article addressing the differences between terrorism and practicing religion, students became more educated and open-minded about the issue. Students asked questions about the definition of a terrorist versus an extremist, and reasons why terrorism might arise.

Showing support

Sophomore Kelly Morali first heard about the attacks through Yahoo notifications and Facebook messages. The stream of posts and profile picture changes showed support, and Morali immediately thought about her family in Paris, which thankfully was safe. As a French 4 student herself,  Morali spent two days in French class watching videos and discussing the cultural aspect of the attacks. Morali also mentioned that French honors students have pen pals which connect them more to the culture on a personal level.

“It was just really shocking to know how close we were to some people,” Morali said. “Even though we live so far away, it affects them and us just the same.”

Students write on a chalkboard in the middle of the rally court for the Nov. 13 attacks. Many students changed their Facebook profile pictures or sent messages to show their support. Photo by Andrea Schlitt.

Morali also attended a vigil to show support for those in France at the San Francisco city hall. People made posters with the national French motto “liberty, equality and fraternity” and waved French flags.

“Everyone was singing [the French national anthem] individually but you could only hear one voice and it made me think that everyone is together for the most part in the situation,” Morali said. “Seeing everyone with the same expression on their face was very emotional and moving.”

Moving forward

French student junior Bennett Zhang believes it’s important for people to remain educated on the facts of the event, rather than making assumptions about the attackers and their religion. He also sees this as a way for him appreciate the French culture more.

“It’s really eye-opening,” Zhang said. “It makes me reflect more on how fragile and how bad things can happen at any time.”

Zhang also created a poster using a programming website to add to a stream of messages offering support to France. Along with showing support, Morali also sees this as a reminder to not take our families for granted and be more conscious of how we’re acting toward them.

Lhomme believes that any form of support makes a difference, from a simple Facebook post to sending flowers.

“We’re only going to evolve as a society is we don’t repeat our mistakes,” Lhomme said. “This is an opportunity for us to not repeat the mistakes that we’ve made 20 or 10 years ago.”