Celebrating Rodolfo-Sioson, Lu shooting survivor

BY LINI GE | APRIL 09, 2009 7:30 AM

Watching a mini-screening of the one-hour documentary Miya of the Quiet Strength, the story of Miya Rodolfo-Sioson — the lone survivor of the 1991 shootings on the UI campus — Barbara Schelar could not help picturing the photo of Rodolfo-Sioson she’s kept on her closet door for the last 17 years.

“You get up and you think that you’re dealing with something difficult, but you look at her photograph and think she dealt with something really difficult and was still able to have this serenity in expression and not lose her sense of purpose in life and her devotion to her ideals,” said the retired Iowa City elementary-school teacher.

The Wednesday screening, held at the UI Women’s Resource and Action Center, was a part of a series of events on campus celebrating the life and memory of Rodolfo-Sioson, who died of breast cancer in December 2008 at the age of 40.

Rodolfo-Sioson was 23 and in the last semester of her undergraduate study in global studies at the UI when she was shot by graduate student Gang Lu, who killed five people before committing suicide. The incident left Rodolfo-Sioson paralyzed from the neck down.

Laurie Haag first met Rodolfo-Sioson in the fall of 1990, when the then-junior applied for a work-study position at the Women’s Resource and Action Center, where she worked for three years.
“I think she was a remarkable individual,” said Haag, the program developer at the center. “I remember her being very caring, very sensitive, and altruistic.”

Rodolfo-Sioson had always been active in promoting human rights, said Jacque Gharib, a UI alumna who referred to herself as Rodolfo-Sioson’s “friend, fellow activist, and caregiver.” Before the shooting, Rodolfo-Sioson chaired the UI Central America Solidarity Committee, Gharib said. She continued chairing the committee after being disabled and later chaired the UI Lecture Committee.

“With her resilience, quiet strength, and perseverance, she helped an entire community to heal,” Gharib said. “We felt we should do more to honor Miya’s remarkable life with her passing last December and to bring awareness of the documentary of her life.”

Rodolfo-Sioson moved to Berkeley, Calif., in 1996 and became a disability-rights advocate. She later chaired the city’s Commission on Disability.

When Rodolfo-Sioson applied to be a coordinator for Student of the World Invitation to Friendship and Travel, a nonprofit organization that offers cross-cultural educational exchanges among countries across the world, Daniel Julien — the founder of the organization and a French-born film director — was uncertain about her ability to fulfill the tough job because of her physical condition.

But the doubts were soon cleared.

“We were very pleased with her job, and she was actually able to do it better than a lot of the other coordinators who are ‘abled,’ ” Julien said.

At first, Julien didn’t know why Rodolfo-Sioson was in a wheelchair. He learned about her past two to three years later.

“I found out she was a unique individual, and she had a tragic life story,” he said. “But at the same time, she’s very practical, resilient, and especially with a strong desire to help others.”

Inspired by Rodolfo-Sioson’s life story, Julien decided to film a documentary about her. The filming started in October 2007 and was completed in November 2008.

The full documentary will be shown at 7 p.m. April 12 in the Pappajohn Business Building’s Buchanan Auditorium.

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