Like many others in Singapore, I followed the coverage of the recent tragic shootings in Santa Barbara in disbelief. Elliot Rodger shot and stabbed six students to death.
His disturbing manifesto of how he wanted to kill his stepmother and brother, six, and the images of the crime scene were hard to stomach.
I had stayed in the student town of Isla Vista during the last academic year while on an exchange programme at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).
The Alpha Phi sorority house where the first shots were fired was just several hundred metres from the apartment where I had stayed with other exchange students.
Tragedies like this can happen to any of us, especially when so many of my peers from Singapore are scattered across different parts of the world on various internship and exchange programmes.
Isla Vista is a small university town spanning just about 5 square miles in Santa Barbara, two hours' drive from the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles.
It is heartbreaking that the shootings have left a haunting imprint on a beautiful place that has given legions of students before me ample fond memories.
We studied and played hard, but life in Isla Vista was also about finding purpose through active engagement with the community.
During my stint at the campus paper and in many of my classes, I met and spoke to individuals who were passionate about campaigning for and helping the large homeless population in the area.
They took part in state conferences that confronted issues of gender, identity and race, and volunteered with environmental groups to help preserve the natural beauty of the town.
As I reflect on the past incidents of xenophobia and racism in Singapore, such as negative reactions to the Little India riot or the campaign against the Philippine Independence Day celebrations, it strikes me that this one link that continues to bind me to the UCSB community also delivers a profound message.
The Elliot Rodger episode has shown that the lack of empathy can often fester and lead to tragic consequences. We Singaporeans need to address our own biases and prejudices, as the failure to do so would harm our families and country in the long run.
This article was first published on June 02, 2014.
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