School in China Safe After Attack

By Emily Singer

At 9 p.m. local time on March 1 in Kunming, China, a group of men dressed in black began stabbing people with long knives at random, aiming for the head, neck and shoulders, according to witnesses. The attack left 33 people dead, including four of the assailants, and another 130 were wounded. Four more terrorists were apprehended soon after the attack.

A group of Xinjiang separatists have been linked to the terror attack that took place at a train station in Kunming. All 25 students participating in the C.V. Starr-Middlebury School Abroad in Kunming are safe and have been accounted for.

“We have been in touch with our director there [in Kunming] and we are relieved to report that all students at the Kunming program are accounted for and our safe,” wrote President of the College Ronald D. Liebowitz in an email to students, faculty and staff. “Our thoughts are with all the citizens of Kunming who are such welcome hosts to our students.”

The school in Kunming is one of three that the College operates in China, and the only one located in the western part of the country. Kunming is a notoriously multiethnic city and tends to attract students interested in anthropology and environmental sciences.

In the hours following the attack, students on the Middlebury program were instructed to remain in their dorms. A number of students were traveling outside of the city for the weekend and were instructed to “be in touch with … staff about the best way to return to Kunming,” according to Dean of International Programs and Edward C. Knox Professor of International Studies Jeff Cason. An all-student meeting was convened with the program’s staff in Kunming the day after the attack to discuss the incident and security measures students should take.

During the meeting, students were reported to be relatively calm and in good spirits, according to Cason. Students were advised not to leave their dormitories at night, to travel in small groups at all times and to avoid public transportation, at least for the next several days. Organized program outings were cancelled until further notice.

“These are all precautionary measures, to be sure; reports from staff indicate that life in Kunming is relatively normal, with local residents out and about as usual,” wrote Cason.

Karen Liu ’15 is currently studying in Kunming and was traveling outside of the city with two other students when the attack occurred. They learned of the incident when a parent of one of the students called to find out if they were safe.

“What I can say is that we are very lucky,” Liu wrote in an email. “Two other [students] and I had travel plans and were at the train station just three hours before. We will be arriving back to Kunming via train [on Saturday night] and have been directed by [Assistant Director of the C. V. Starr-Middlebury School Abroad in Kunming] Peter Robbins to stick with our original travel plans because security will have increased by then.”

That advice changed, however, as staff members ultimately chartered a bus to retrieve the students from outside of the city and bring them back to Kunming on Sunday evening, simply because of the increased risk.

“So far the attack has been isolated to just the train station, and staff members have not yet advised against [visiting] certain areas of Kunming,” Liu continued.

While tensions between the Muslim Uighur ethnic group in the west and China have been rising over the years, according to The Guardian, this is the “first time people from the north-western region have been accused of such a major and organized attack outside its borders.”