On Monday evening, dozens of students gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr. statue in the East Mall for a vigil honoring the nine people who died in a shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is one of the oldest black churches in the country and has been the site of black civil rights struggles throughout its history. On June 17, Dylann Roof, a white 21-year-old, wounded one and killed nine attendants, all of whom were black, at a bible study class at the church. At a press conference on Saturday, FBI Director James Comey said the FBI is investigating the shooting as a hate crime.
“The realization of what happened has been really difficult for a lot of people to internalize, including the students that we work with,” Multicultural Engagement Center Program Director Rocío Villalobos said. “Now more than ever, we need to hold space for the students and people that we work with and for the broader campus community, in order to reiterate what we believe — that black lives matter.”
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At the vigil, program organizers from the MEC passed around and lit candles, including nine colorful candles placed at the foot of the statue. Black MEC members and students spoke about how the shooting had affected them. In particular, they talked about how churches have always been a safe space for black communities and how that made this shooting particularly unnerving.
Afterwards, organizers presented large sheets of paper for attendees to write ideas on for how to best address racism on campus. According to MEC Program Director Malik Crowder, MEC plans to use student ideas to update its mission statement and implement some of them on campus.
“I wrote that there should be mandatory cultural studies classes,” said Scott Riegel, radio-television-film senior and vigil attendee. “So often, a lot of the reason people maintain racist ideas is that they don’t look at the world through an outside lens, only through a lens that has been built by white supremacy. College is a good time to challenge that.”
Other suggested ideas included engaging diverse communities about discussions on race, creating more safe spaces and speaking out more against racism.
“We hope that the vigil will remind people that they are not alone and that we must work together to address what caused this violence in the first place,” Villalobos said. “The problem is much larger than this one act and one individual. If we're going to successfully challenge racism and the effect it's having on our communities, it must be done collectively. We must each play a role in this movement.”