Candlelight Vigil for memory and justice held Wednesday night

Hundreds gathered in front of the University of Connecticut's Student Union lawn to condemn racism, bigotry and violence seen in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Amar Batra/Daily Campus)

On Wednesday night, hundreds of members of the University of Connecticut community gathered on the Student Union lawn to condemn the racism, bigotry and violence seen in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“There are three primary purposes for this evening’s event. [The first] is to provide an opportunity for us to come together as a campus community to reflect upon our history and the current state of our society. [The second] is to communicate the importance of promoting and exemplifying respect and kindness towards one another. [The third] is to demonstrate our unwavering commitment to our institutional values,” said Joseph Cooper, the organizer of the event and an assistant professor in the Sports Management program.

Cooper said members of the UConn campus community felt this was an important time to reaffirm their commitment to the university being a safe and invigorating place where intellectual, educational, and personal growth are valued and manifested.

“We acknowledge the pain and turmoil that has occurred in our world – and more specifically in our country – as a result of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, anti-semitism, islamophobia, ageism, ableism and all forms of oppression, discrimination and marginalization. It is important for all of us to be reflective and steadfast in our commitment to sharing positive energy and supporting and uplifting one another,” Cooper said.

Eleanor Daugherty, UConn’s Dean of Students, told the crowd she finds it essential now to reaffirm and re-articulate the University’s values of diversity, respect, and human dignity that make it a special community.

“In upholding these values, we condemn any and all forms of hate speech, acts of violence, bigotry and hatred regardless of the source,” Daugherty said. “Though we support free speech, we will not accept hate speech or acts that incite harm against any one of our community members,” she said.

Joelle Murchison, UConn’s Chief Diversity Officer, spoke on reflecting and moving forward.

“It’s moments like this that cause us to ask the question, ‘where do we go from here?’” Murchison said. “This is a time for us to come together. We gather here from all walks of life, from all experiences and all backgrounds to come together and stand as one community, bound by our purpose and our values to prevent us from becoming caught up in the words and actions of hate,” she said.

Murchison said members of the UConn community must not become examples of the hatred on display in Charlottesville, but rather must come together and have important conversations that allow them to grow and learn.

“The tenor in our country has changed, and we all have a tremendous role to play in helping to right and re-center our community,” Murchison said. “And so I would ask you, do not let this night be just a moment. Let this night be the catalyst, the beginning of our ability to claim this community as one that will not stand for hate but will stand together.”

Tricia-Ann Hawthorne, the advisor of the Student Athlete Success Program, said it’s time for the UConn student body to rise up, stand up for what is right, look out for others and be inclusive.

“Don’t be disheartened; instead, be encouraged in knowing that your voice truly matters, and knowing that tonight, though we stand here in remembrance of a moment that left us all in disbelief and with a turmoil of emotions, we can still create change,” Hawthorne said.

Micki Mcelya, the director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality studies program, suggested there is great power in filling public spaces with anger, resolve, and commitments to one another and better futures.

“We have to do the hard, but also the joyful and exhilarating work of marking and celebrating our differences, and of finding strength, creativity, and knowledge in those differences,” Mcelya said.

Kazem Kazerounian, the Dean of the School of Engineering, remains hopeful despite what he’s seen in the news.

“I remain hopeful because I believe neo-Nazis, fascists, racists, KKK members, homophobes, xenophobes, bigots, anti-semites, anti-muslims and those who are prejudiced against other religions or schools of thoughts exist only in the fringes of this society,” Kazerounian said. “I remain hopeful because you are here tonight, and hundreds of thousands of people like you are in similar events elsewhere in the country. I remain hopeful because everyday I work with students like you, a generation that is far more committed to its fellow humans and its environment than the generations before them.”

Irma Valverde, UConn’s Undergraduate Student Government president, told the crowd that it is important to stand up for what is right and support each other in difficult times.

“This moment proves to us how our community can act as a positive light even when it seems like the world can be a little dark,” Valverde said. “Although we have been brought together tonight due to an outrageous act of hate, I want you to leave tonight knowing that you are not alone, and to ask you to continue using your voice to stand against hate.”

Other student speakers included Josue Lopez, a graduate student in the Neag School of Education; Caesar Valentin, a co-coordinator of the Latinx Student Leadership Council; Aubrey Tang, a co-coordinator of the Pan-Asian Council; Zoya Dhakam, the coordinator of Salaam; and Yoshua Goodman, the student leader of UConn Hillel.

UConn students expressed gratitude towards the faculty and staff who hosted the event and said it made them feel happy to be part of a community that values diversity.

“I really appreciated everyone standing together in solidarity against all of the bigotry we’ve seen in the country recently, and I have a lot of respect for all of the students and staff that came out against all the racism, bigotry, xenophobia, islamophobia and sexism that we’ve seen,” said third-semester psychology major Abeer Mohamed.

First-semester biology major Nisali Fernando was incredibly excited to come to the event.

“Though I come from a small, close-knit town, it really felt like home to see everyone come together, and I love knowing that I am a part of a campus and a community that cares so much about human rights and loving your neighbor,” Fernando said.

First-semester political science and sociology double major Wendy Marte said that, though coming from a 98% black community made adjusting to UConn a culture shock, she was glad to see everyone come together.

“It’s nice to see that the faculty are trying to take a stand and that students are telling me that I’m not alone here, even though it’s a huge campus,” Marte said.


Gabriella Debenedictis is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at gabriella.debenedictis@uconn.edu.