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The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

‘We cannot afford silence any longer’: Starkville stands with hope

Sarah Dutton | The Reflector
‘We cannot afford silence any longer’: Starkville stands with hope

A diverse group of approximately 250 people gathered at 6 p.m. Wednesday in The Junction on Mississippi State University’s campus. Those present were brought together by a common bond: the Presidential Executive Order on Immigration.
The vigil was hosted by the Religious Diversity Organization and speakers presented to concerned members of the Starkville community surrounded by the warmth and comfort of candlelight. Students, faculty members, residents of the community and more held signs presenting hope in a myriad of ways reminding international students of their value.
Anna Walker, a second year veterinary medicine student who initiated the gathering, explained why she decided to call the event a vigil.

“One of the definitions of the word vigil is ‘a period of time keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep,’” Walker said. “So to anyone out there who has been affected, targeted or feels threatened by this ban, please look around and know that we are awake and we are watching and we will stand up to insure that you are not only given the freedom to be here, but that you also receive the respect and opportunity that you deserve.”

Walker said to those who support the presidential executive order, those opposed to it will fight  against them every step of the way.
Dr. Rani Sullivan, associate professor of Aerospace Engineering, spoke representing the Muslim Student Association. Sullivan hoped that peace would be present among everyone present. She said to the crowd that “they had demonstrated they have a voice and that it must be used.”

“Silence is the same thing as agreement,” Sullivan said.

She asked the crowd to forgive the fear of the international students.

Sullivan said the crowd was displaying one of her Islamic religion’s key principlesto not idly watch as creation is abused or mistreated. She said Muslims are told to stand up firmly for justice, to be a witness for God.

Sullivan said she and her family have lived in Starkville for 50 years, and despite cultural differences, the community welcomed her family.

“This community has nurtured me and my family through all of these years,” Sullivan said. “I hear the same thing from people that come today. Nobody wants to leave. It is because of the hospitality and generosity that is shown to us.”

Sullivan said she was unable to express the gratitude the Muslim community feels towards the larger community of Starkville.

“Your words and the images that you are projecting are lifelines for the refugees and those people that are afraid, the ones that are uncertain and they are separated from their families,” Sullivan said.

International students are suffering from homesickness and are now uncertain about their plans to visit their home countries. Sullivan said there is a petition signed by academics located at notoimmigrationban.comaddressing three key points against the executive order: discrimination, detrimental to the national interests of the U.S., and imposes burdens on the community; she said the executive order is a Muslim ban.  

She also spoke on behalf of the community.

“My dear neighbors, your bravery, your compassion, your generosity, has touched us deeply,” Sullivan said. “We are so very grateful and we ask God’s blessings on you and yours.”

She said peace-loving Muslims who actually practice Islam, completely condemn all aggression on human life, freedom and dignity everywhere.
Following Dr. Sullivan, chief administrative officer at the Starkville Community Theater, Gabe Smith, spoke about the Ghostlight Project.

The Ghostlight Project is a national organization that began on the eve of the presidential election. Hundreds of theaters around the country joined to share commitment to greater inclusion and compassion in theaters and the communities.

Smith said the Starkville Ghostlight Project invited people to bring their own light sources downtown to the local theater where the attendees all turned on their lights simultaneously.  He said the light they created was to represent their commitment to guard their values as artists and to be a safe haven to anyone targeted for any reason.

“The light symbolized hope and a belief that through our actions, change together is possible,” Smith said.

Meagan O’Nan, founder of Mississippi Institute of Peace and co-founder of Thrive Health, Inc., a health and inspirational center, followed Smith.

O’Nan said the word “sanctuary” kept coming to her mind in regards to the vigil.

“Sanctuary is something we all need right now,” O’Nan said. “A place of community, a place to feel welcome, not only welcomed, but valued.”

O’Nan said she values the lives of those effected by the executive orders. She said although the government may have the ability to affect people’s lives, it will not effect her spirits or how she treats others.

“As our government continues to attempt to divide us, the best of us are rising up,” O’Nan said. “Community is more powerful than government. Communities are meant to be sanctuaries. And that is what we want to be for you. You are welcome here, you are valued here.”

Dr. Sol Pelaez, professor of Spanish and Hispanic American Literature and Culture at MSU, read an open letter from the MSU faculty addressed to President Mark Keenum next.

At the vigil, Pelaez said the letter had about 60 signatures.

Laura Herring, student director of No Lost Generation, an organization that advocates for children impacted by the Syrian refugee crisis, spoke next. She said she offered support for everyone affected by the order.

“I implore us all to remember that we must defend this most vulnerable population who are on the verge of being lost to war, violence and worst of all, political apathy,” Herring said.

She reminded the crowd of the tragedy of the Lost Boys of Sudan, the genocide in Rwanda and Holocaust of World War II and said the nation should not allow the refugee crisis to become another painful memory in the U.S while people shamefully watch.

“Together we are here tonight to represent that America is indeed hurting, but her people are still accepting, compassionate and standing with open arms,” Herring said.

Saeed Miraee, president of the Iranian Student Association, said humans are of one essence and soul; if one suffers, others do to. He said, speaking on behalf of the ISA, they are honored to live in a country that celebrates diversity and cares for other’s sufferings.

“Diversity is America’s strength, we believe that this executive order negatively affects the life, future and prosperity of the citizens from these seven countries who are sharing part of their lives with you in the U.S. or pursuing a bright future here,” Miraee said.

Miraee said they are anticipating the community’s support.

“We seek your help to find the right way to show the current federal administration that all of the students regardless of their religious, national origin, color, race and ethnicity have made great contributions to the excellence of MSU,” Miraee said.

Katherine Klein, MS ACLU equality for all advocacy coordinator, spoke next and said she fights for the equal protection for all of Mississippians. She said the executive order is the first step of Trump fulfilling his campaign threat: banning admissions of Muslims in the U.S. She said this presidential treatment is unconstitutional, un-American and immoral.

“Our government cannot favor one religion over another,” Klein said. “This act betrays the basis tenants we hold as Americans.”

She said the executive order has ripped apart families and has restricted those fleeing violence from trying to start a new life.

“We are a diverse society built on the sweat and ingenuity of immigrants and refugees,” Klein said. “American Muslims, immigrants, and U.S. born alike, we are all part of the fabric of this nation. Our diversity is why America is already great.”

Klein said it was poignant that Trump chose to sign the executive order on Holocaust Remembrance Day.  She said the Holocaust was a tragedy of silence and religious extermination. She charged the crowd to speak out and fight for those hurt by the new administration.

“This is going to be a constant fight for the next few years,” Klein said. “We cannot afford silence any longer.”

She said she charges the privileged people there who have not spoken up in fear of backlash from others. She said the most privileged people have to lose by sharing their opinion is rejection. She said silence puts people’s’ livelihoods and lives on the line.

“Our voices are powerful,” Klein said. “We must speak out against injustice, against the things that we know are wrong.”

Klein ended the night by making a promise to those present.

“We will never stop fighting for an America that truly upholds our values of liberty and equality,” Klein said. “We hope you won’t stop fighting either.”

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‘We cannot afford silence any longer’: Starkville stands with hope