After reading the words from the email alert, my mind went into shock. For a couple seconds, I couldn’t move, think or breathe. Then all at once, my body sprang into action. As a Resident Assistant in Tuolumne, I was worried about the well being of the students I was dedicated to help. My fellow RAs and I swarmed the building, checking-in and making sure that everyone was safe. We talked, played games, and hung out in the common spaces as the police and other first responders did their jobs. But as the day went on, life only got harder for the residents of Tuolumne. Eventually they were kicked out of the place they now called home, filling them with worry and fear as the Housing and Residence Life staff did all they could to accommodate everyone.
Despite the constant stream of unanswerable questions and mountains of pizza and wings, the moment that made the biggest impact on me was the moment I was sure it was my resident who had committed the acts and consequently lost his life. I woke up the next morning to Faisal Mohammed’s face all over social media. His name and picture plastered next to words such as “terrorism,” “horrible,” and even “deadly.”
I felt guilty. In my job they teach us to reach out and make connections to residents, even when it’s hard. To not even know that he was having these problems, I felt like I had failed as an RA.
One year later, I look at our campus and see how things have changed. Ribbons tied to the light poles along the bridge, and students stopping to pay their respects at a small memorial created against of one of the light posts. The bright new faces of the class of 2020 extending their sympathies to those of us mourning the events of we now refer to as Bobcat Strong Day.
In the days that followed the incident, our sanctuary was pillaged by news trucks and reporters who wanted to know how we felt. Our privacy was invaded while the world yearned to know how the Bobcats of UC Merced were feeling about this tragic event. “I was angry, when I saw news reporters. I wanted them to go away. I felt that they just wanted a story and they didn’t care about Faisal. He was more than a story, he was a resident, he was a person,” said Teresa Wachira, a RA for Tuolumne at the time. Though they were not lined up along the dirt off ramps of Lake Road, this year reporters still could be seen in front of Kolligian Library.
Fortunately, we still have each other to lean on. We have continued the strength and passion of the phrase “Bobcat Strong” by proudly wearing t-shirts or using it as a hashtag in solidarity. As a student body we have used each other as support for not only those who were directly affected by the event but emotionally affected as well. One year later, we have not forgotten the strength within that allowed us to feel sympathy for a young man who lost his way. We defended him against the accusations of terrorism and have the desire to know his side of the story.
At some point on November 4, 2015 one of my coworkers told me they heard a resident say, “I saw Jocelyn being strong so it made me want to be strong.” I take that with me everywhere I go. Strength is contagious and as long as we continue to be proud in the phrase Bobcat Strong, we will be able to look back on that day and not feel sadness but instead, the pride of being a bobcat.
Picture credits: UC Merced, Jocelyn Foster