UCLA Shooting Suspect Identified: Thoughts On Race, Violence, and Graduate Studies

Mainak Sarkar, in an undated photo. (Photo credit: UCLA)
Mainak Sarkar, in an undated photo. (Photo credit: UCLA)

Like many, when I heard that the UCLA campus was on lock-down yesterday due to an on-campus shooting, I braced myself for the worst. Many have scoffed that the spectacle of the mass shooting has become commonplace in today’s America.

Even so, I felt a growing despair as tweets began rolling in from students sheltering in place at UCLA yesterday. There is no story of mass violence that ends well: each is a gruesome spectacle of horror and tragedy, inevitably committed by a person who made the unforgivable decision to weigh their own private angst over the lives of the innocent.

But, yesterday’s events at UCLA gave me pause for extra concern. UCLA is one of the more racially diverse campuses in the United States with over one-third of its undergraduates self-identifying as Asian American or Pacific Islander. It is home to the nation’s largest Asian American Studies departments. I felt certain: a shooting at UCLA was almost certain to reverberate through the AAPI community in unpredictable ways.

I was saddened to learn this morning that — despite early reports that the shooter was a White male — Los Angeles police confirmed the identity of the shooter as former UCLA Mechanical Engineering graduate student Mainak Sarkar, a 38-year-old Bengali American scientist who received his  doctorate in 2013 and his US permanent residency in 2014. Sarkar is suspected of having killed two victims — his ex-wife, Ashley Hasti who was found dead in Hasti’s home in Minnesota, and his former graduate mentor, Prof. William Klug, who was shot in Klug’s office on the UCLA campus — before Sarkar took his own life.

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