We are solemn, but still defiantly multicultural

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, students at a business school in the city are more committed than ever to defending European values, says Frank Bournois

November 19, 2015

ESCP Europe, the world’s oldest business school, is located on the iconic Avenue République, within a mile of most of the locations that terrorists plunged into horror and tragedy last week. That night, cafés, restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall were all full of young people, gathering, as usual, to put the world to rights and enjoy life and music. And they were also full of their usual crowd of locals of all ages and social backgrounds.

This Friday the 13th was a genuine Black Friday for a number of students, who were among those who tragically lost their lives or were injured in the terrorist attacks. Miraculously, most ESCP Europe students were not in pubs and bistros that night, but on campus, organising and campaigning for student elections. However, this meant that several hundred of them were within walking distance of the first shootings. As a consequence, campus officials quickly ordered the closing of the school gates, locking everybody securely inside.

I immediately made my way there, to try to provide some degree of comfort and support during the long and terrible night. Despite the uncertainty of the situation, our students demonstrated calm, patience and solidarity as the sound of ambulance and police sirens filled the streets nearby.

More than 50 nationalities are represented in this school, where multiculturalism is the essence of our management teaching. And the way our students behaved showed just how powerful embracing cultural differences can be – which is, of course, the very opposite philosophy to that of the terrorists, who seek to impose their barbaric ideology on everyone.

As with the rest of Paris, we are finding that many vestiges of that traumatic night remain with us. The price has been enormous, with 132 dead and more than 300 severely injured. We gathered on campus on Monday for a minute’s silence, and I gave a short speech about the need to defend the fundamental values of liberty and respect; we were solemn and sad, but still defiantly multicultural.

The practical work to meet the challenges we must now live with has begun. New security measures are being implemented, with badge check and bag search procedures now routine. Individual and collective vigilance has increased. And, as in many companies, schools and public institutions, a psychological support unit has been set up for students and staff who need it.

But among this community of international students, there is a tangible feeling of bonding around the school’s values. We are all committed to defending European values of humanism and liberty. And not only is that commitment now stronger than ever, but so too is our readiness to stand up to those who would threaten them.

Frank Bournois is dean of ESCP Europe.

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