The high price we pay!

On Monday evening my Twitter feed filled up with reports of a disturbing incident that had taken place in the United States. Surprisingly, it was not the travesty in Boston where three people were killed and over 170 injured in bombings at the site of the famous Marathon. Over 1300 miles away in Northeast Louisiana, on the campus of Grambling State University, three students were involved in a shooting incident. All were later treated for gunshot wounds.

Immediately, concern filtered through on my timeline from current students and fellow alum. Even though we were separated by distance, we were forever bonded by our experiences at, according to the school tagline, “the place where everybody is somebody.”

Pretty soon, assured that the victims were not in danger, conversation veered off into a battle between what was considered “Old Gram’ and ‘New Gram.’ It’s a constant game where we take turns trying to one-up each other in the category of who had it worse during our respective tenures. As another installment started last night, it brought back memories of the peccadilloes, now endearing, that once were the bane of our existence.

I remember landing in the spring of 2007 at an airport in the middle of rural Louisiana, wondering if I was still somehow trapped on my St Vincent trip, circa 2003. The distance from the entrance to the boarding area was negligible. I perked up considerably as the school- appointed driver sped past what I considered the hallmarks of United States civilization: A mall and McDonald’s.

The scenery soon dissolved into a haze of shrubbery and well, more shrubbery. In the midst of planning my escape route, just in case I had been unwittingly abducted, I finally saw signs of life. There it was: the City of Grambling. Which also happened to be the University. The two are pretty much interchangeable.

And thus began an odyssey that would see some of my compatriots jump ship, launch a petition to transfer, and in many cases rue the day they ever heard of Mahmoud Lamadanie.

Lamadanie is the Associate Vice President & The Executive Director of the Center of International Affairs & Programs, which in layman’s terms, translates to snake oil salesman. As head of the much-maligned International Office, it was his responsibility to recruit as many foreign students in an effort to give a diverse flavour to the historically black institution. Although conspiracy theorists will have you believe it may have had something to do with the school’s shaky accreditation standings.

Lamadanie took his lounge act all the way to St Lucia’s shores, spinning many tales, none more fallacious than the notion that he was one of us and understanding of our concerns. He had also come to America as an international student at Georgetown University and often regaled students with stories of his impoverished struggle.

It’s funny how that kinship went out the window when several students started complaining about their abodes, some of which had been overrun with mold, vermin, or in one case where the roof had caved in during the wee hours of the morning.

Locating Lamadanie during these trying times was the equal of  stumbling on a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

To the uninformed, this may seem trivial. Public perception would suggest these are just a bunch of ingrates. After all, I lived in my wate- logged dorm room for 18 months, dutifully mopping up several times a day. However, this was just the beginning. The next few years would be fraught with tales of crime, health crises, and turmoil, which went largely ignored, not just by school administrators but by the Government of St Lucia that seemingly had brokered the haphazard deal as part of political strategy.

Quite frankly, I could care less about politics and the inevitable power plays driving the machine. What I do care about is the safety and comfort of our students when they embark on these uncertain journeys to personal and professional development.

On Monday night, while praying for our St Lucian students still on campus, I couldn’t help but think of one of my own classmates and the terror in his eyes as he recalled his own brush with death—when he was held at gunpoint . . .

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