Backlash against President Donald Trump’s executive order immigration ban has been immediate and powerful across the nation. Here on campus, students, faculty and staff expressed their discontent with the ban by holding a candlelight vigil Wednesday, Feb.1. in solidarity with those affected.
The vigil, which was held at the Stag Statue, began with a 10-minute moment of silence out of respect for those affected by the ban. Students held up candles and homemade signs with slogans such as “Don’t Legislate Hate,” “Build Bridges Not Walls” and “#NoWallNoBan.”
After the moment of silence, the attendees walked to the Barone Campus Center for remarks from Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Martin Nguyen and Muslim Chaplain Nargis Alizada. Following the remarks from Nguyen and Alizada, an interfaith prayer was led by two of the event’s organizers, Jesuit Universities Humanitarian Action Network Co-Fellows Deirdre McElroy ‘17 and Sophia Bolanos ‘18.
For Iman Jebara ‘17, the vigil hit close to home.
“I’m actually Syrian,” Jebara said. “Both my parents came from Syria, so this was a big thing for me. My parents came here 30 years ago and if they were trying to come today they would not be allowed in.”
Jabara went on to explain how she still has family in Syria who are refugees, along with refugee cousins in Turkey.
“This is a very important topic to me,” Jabara said of the vigil.
McElroy explained why JUHAN wanted to help organize the vigil.
“We’re a club that advocates for humanitarian rights and believes that everyone should have a chance to stand in solidarity with others and should be a man or woman for others following our Jesuit values,” said McElroy. “So when we heard about the executive order, we were honestly floored because it goes against everything we as a club, we as a University and we as a nation stand for.”
“We were really honored and thankful that we had this opportunity to make something so great and so important,” McElroy added.
In his speech, Nguyen advised the attendees of the vigil about what steps they can take toward fighting against the new order in America.
“We cannot accept that the things we are hearing are the new normal,” said Nguyen. “We may feel inclined to bury our heads in the sand, but that is not an option for immigrants.”
Nguyen, the son of two Vietnamese refugees, advised that students speak with their local government representatives to make change happen. He suggested the website 5calls.org, which directs users on which government officials they should call and what they should say to fight for issues that are important to them, which they can select on the site. He also spoke on the importance of voting every year, not just for presidential candidates, but for local candidates as well.
“While moments like these are heartwarming,” said Nguyen, in reference to the large crowd of just about over 100 that the vigil drew in according to Assistant Director of the Office of Student Diversity Carrie Robinson, “there is, as I see it, a tide rising against us. It will be very difficult to fight against it.”
Senior Riley Barrett, who attended the vigil, explained why she thought it was important to show support.
“I wanted to be able to stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, specifically on campus,” Barrett said. “There have been a lot of people who were really upset over the executive order that Trump passed and I thought it was important to be a show of support.”
Barrett also commented on her pleasure with the crowd that attended the vigil.
“I was very impressed by the turnout and it makes me very hopeful for what we can achieve on campus,” commented Barrett.
Senior Abigayel Phillips, who initiated the event after hearing about the candlelight vigil at Yale University on Sunday, Jan. 29, reached out to Robinson. Afterwards, JUHAN was also asked to help with organizing the event.
Phillips, who said that she was “overwhelmed” and “anxious” after the succession of executive orders by President Trump, commented, “I think there is a lot of hope and creativity in coming together like this, so that’s what keeps me sane.”
Vigil attendee John Iezin ‘17 also commented on the executive order, saying, “[Hearing about the executive order] was like a punch in the gut. But when you’re down, that’s when you have to react and get back up. So it motivated me, but it also brought me down a bit.”
When asked how she reacted to the executive order, Jabara said, “I honestly cried because that was it. Any hope I had of my family coming into America from Syria was all gone and I felt so hopeless that I would never see my family again. I am also scared to go to Turkey and I obviously can’t go to Syria, so I don’t have any way to see my family.”
“I think this ban is so unconstitutional and I will fight everyone and anyone [if] I have to,” she added.