Chinese international student died in Boston bombing

A graduate student at Boston University, who came to the United States to study maths and statistics, was among those killed in the Boston Marathon bombing on Monday 15 April.

Lingzi Lu had followed thousands of other spectators to the finish line only to become part of a tragic story. She – along with an eight-year-old boy and a 29-year-old restaurant manager – were killed when two bombs exploded 45 metres apart last Monday afternoon.

Close to 170 others were injured. Another Boston University student, Danling Zhou, was one of the wounded and was transferred to the Boston Medical Center. Media reports say she is in stable condition.

Lu (23) studied at the Beijing Institute of Technology before moving to America in the autumn to begin a three-year degree programme. Classmates and advisors remembered her as “bubbly” and “full of glory”.

“We can’t put into words what our hearts are holding onto…a day meant for celebration was taken from us in an act of terror,” said Dexter McCoy, former Boston University Student Government president at a Tuesday night interfaith service, according to the campus paper BU Today.

“This act of terror was meant to steal our joy. This is our Boston and no one can take it away from us.”

Boston University wasn’t the only higher education institution affected by Monday’s attack. The marathon draws on the city’s vibrant college population and many run the 42 kilometre marathon or flock to the sidelines to cheer on participants.

Most universities and colleges in the Boston area closed as police launched a massive hunt for the two Chechen-born brothers suspected of planting two bombs that exploded minutes apart close to the marathon finishing line.

Harvard Business School was closed on Tuesday, as one of those killed was a daughter of an employee. Other universities in the area held vigils or moments of silence to honour the victims. Several continue to offer counselling services for those affected.

Most institutions reopened on Saturday, following the killing in a shoot-out with police of older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev (26) on Thursday night, and the capture on Friday night of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (19) following an exchange of gunfire with police.

A resident of Watertown suburb called police after seeing blood on a boat in a backyard, where Dzhokhar had been hiding. He was taken to hospital in a serious condition.

The Boston Globe reported yesterday that the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, where Dzhokhar was a student and had attended classes last Wednesday, remained closed so that law enforcement could investigate his dormitory room.

Reaction to Lu's death

Lu’s death struck deep in the community of Chinese nationals studying at Boston institutions. Within hours, her profiles on Facebook and on the Chinese social media site Weibo were filled with thousands of comments.

“We feel so sad about this news,” said Harvard graduate student Jin Sun, who didn’t know Lu personally. But due to the close-knit nature of the Chinese student community in Boston, Sun said: “We are almost the same family.”

Asked whether the news of Lu’s death would deter other students from studying in the United States, Sun responded: “No, we come here not for ourselves. We come here to improve China and to improve relations with the United States. I don’t think students will stop coming here to study.”

On Thursday Boston University created a scholarship fund in honour of Lu, and said donors had already committed US$560,000 towards it. The university announced that Lu’s family would soon fly to Boston from their home in Shenyang, and issued a statement from her parents saying:

“She was the joy of our lives. She was a bright and wonderful child. We were thrilled to watch her grow into an intelligent and beautiful young woman.”

Universities grapple with how to respond

The Boston Marathon bombing followed a long series of tragedies that have had a particular impact on United States campuses.

While shootings such as Virginia Tech (2007) and Northern Illinois University (2008) have made headline, universities are also faced with suicides and other untimely student deaths.

The question of how universities should respond to such incidents prompted Seattle University Professor Therese Huston and Michele DiPietro, executive director of Kennesaw State University’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, to survey more than 500 students in the wake of 9/11.

They were inspired by a lack of literature on what professors should do in response to tragedies.

“Many aren’t sure of their role in situations like these. They are worried anything they do or say will make it worse,” explained Huston, who also serves as founding director of Seattle University’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and recently authored a book, Teaching What You Don’t Know, about teaching outside of one’s comfort zone.

“A problematic response is when a professor says, ‘Well, there’s nothing we can do so let’s just go back to the material’ or when they fail to acknowledge the tragedy,” she said.

Students respond best when professors address the situation directly: “It may just be a moment of silence or mentioning ways students can get additional help, but that means a lot,” she added.

University administrators can also help by extending deadlines, offering more tutoring or rescheduling exams.

“Many studies have shown that students have a more difficult time processing information under acute stress. Their working memory is reduced. Telling students they can go over the material again later will improve student learning and coping.”

However, even the best university- and faculty-driven responses cannot bring loved ones back and colleagues of Lingzi Lu are now grappling with that.