We Remember Them: Acts of Love and Compassion in Isla Vista and the May 23, 2014 Isla Vista Memorial Archive

The University of California, Santa Barbara, Public History Program, Division of Student Affairs, Division of Humanities and Fine Arts, and UCSB Library, Special Research Collections – May 23, 2014 Isla Vista Memorial Archive

On May 23, 2014, six UCSB undergraduate students were killed and fourteen other individuals were injured in a crime spree that took place in Isla Vista, the commercial and residential community adjacent to the UCSB campus. In response to these tragic killings, four spontaneous memorial sites were created by friends, family, and community members. Numerous art pieces, cards, and letters were left at these sites by individuals who had known the victims well. With the intention of creating a permanent collection at the campus library, an interdepartmental memorial preservation committee worked with property owners to carefully collect the artifacts from the spontaneous memorial sites. They also documented the campus response in order to provide a case study of how institutions respond in the wake of school shootings and other violent incidents and to help inform policy planners and crisis teams in the future.

The 6,000 square foot exhibit We Remember Them: Acts of Love and Compassion in Isla Vista was created for the anniversary of the tragedy and served as a place of healing and remembrance where the community and family members of the victims could come and pay tribute to their memory. The exhibit was entirely student-run with a graduate student serving as project manager and curator, overseeing a team of student interns and volunteers who worked closely with the parents of the victims. With over 1,800 visitors in the ten weeks it was open, this exhibit was the largest (in terms of attendance and square footage) in the university’s history.

We Remember Them: Acts of Love and Compassion in Isla Vista and the May 23, 2014 Isla Vista Memorial Archive was a difficult project, seeking to document an unimaginable tragedy and create a permanent memorial in collaboration with friends and family. All of the funding for the project was raised by a student organization that secured University support and donations from businesses in the local community.  It succeeded in creating a thoughtful and reflective experience to bring people together in remembrance. In the words of one reviewer, “It was a powerful, painful, honest exhibition, free of cant and cheap grace, respecting the power of violence to wound a community, but forthright in honoring the lives of those murdered and the insistence that this wound would not disable a community’s respect for the bonds that link a community.”