A Difficult Decision

Posted on Thursday, July 31st, 2008 at 9:36 pm by Jeremy in process | No Comments

At Least 45 Killed in Explosions in India

At least 16 explosions went off shortly after 6:30 p.m. in several crowded neighborhoods in the western city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat State, the chief minister, Narendra Modi, told reporters late Saturday. According to the latest details available Sunday, another 110 people were wounded, The Associated Press reported.

The first reports came in on Saturday afternoon and it was absolutely stunning. None of our colleagues at Darpana were harmed, but many other were and certainly the city is shaken to its core. And, then, thinking: of all the cities in a country of over a billion people that the city we were to travel to was hit so hard… Regretfully, our trip to India had to be canceled—our Dean’s and my responsibility to the students and their families trumped our eagerness to continue on in the face of these unsettling events.

Not going is incredibly disappointing. To lose the momentum of our preparatory research and conversations, to come full stop, is difficult. (Of course, we have made this decision freely, whereas those citizens of Ahmedabad have suffered through the ordeal and must now deal with the ramifications of these awful acts of terrorism. Perspective, perspective.) Yet, our group discussion in the lead up to the ultimate decision was wide-ranging and engaging. I might characterize it as “the soft science of risk assessment”—which is what we deliberated over. Given the facts as we knew them, what would the risk be to the students and me by traveling to Ahmedabad at this time? Who bears that risk? Who manages (or doesn’t) that risk? How does one calculate risk? In our Dean’s mind (and ultimately in mine), the answers to those questions persuaded him that the risk was too much to bear. The students impressed me; they may have been nervous about the potential situation in India to differing degrees, but they all still wanted to go.

The project must change now. I believe that the larger question of how social media and networked technologies might be employed in the service of effecting social change is still an incredibly important that can be explored in multiple contexts. In the short term, we’ll scramble to salvage something of the general theme we had begun to develop and look for a new trajectory. My hope is that continuing the work in another, perhaps more local, context will lay down substantial ground work that could then be applied to the specific conditions in India at a later date. I’m working with a wonderful group of students, and I want us to continue on as best as we can.

It’s 10:30pm. A week ago I thought we’d be in the air at this moment, beginning the long, disorienting transcontontinental journey to India. But now we must change course.