Johns Hopkins University Dissenters organized “Candlelight Vigil for a Free Palestine” on Oct. 23. Students gathered at the beach to mourn the Palestinian lives lost in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The current Israeli-Hamas war began on Oct. 7 when Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel; in response, Israel declared war on Hamas. As of Oct. 24, authorities reported that there have been at least 1,400 deaths in Israel and over 5,000 in Gaza.
An event organizer, using the pseudonym of Jolene, stated in an interview with The News-Letter that the event hopes to provide an opportunity for students to talk about their thoughts publicly.
“People were really afraid and nervous to speak out, and I think it leaves us feeling isolated and powerless when, in fact, we have a tremendous amount of power when we come together and discuss this,” she said. “It was important for people to organize a vigil and come together to recognize the pain and suffering many people on campus are going through right now.”
In an interview with The News-Letter, senior Fikir Simegn expressed that she decided to come to the event because she wanted to make her opinions visible.
“I feel like there's not a lot you can do as students, so being involved in these [events] is really important,” she said.
The vigil began with two minutes of silence for the lives lost in the war. Students were encouraged to light candles, pray, mourn and meditate. Then, a few student speakers spoke about their experiences and opinions about the conflict. They shared personal stories about their childhood, families and friends in relation to the ongoing conflict.
Attendees learned two songs in solidarity with Palestinians and sang them together. They also read several poems about the conflict in both Arabic and English. Afterward, any attendees who wished to speak walked to the front to voice their own experiences and take part in the open mic opportunity.
Jolene expressed her appreciation for students who participated in the open mic and shared their experiences.
“I appreciated the number of people that came up and shared what was on their minds. Often, especially in academic settings, we're taught that we have to be correct or have the best answer or something, and that's really not the case,” she said. “Most people can relate to the human suffering that's happening right now and are concerned, and I thought it was very meaningful that so many people got up and shared something personal to them and their anger about what's happening.”
Dan, using a shortened name, echoed similar sentiments, commenting in an interview with The News-Letter that he felt deep respect for students who attended the event. He noted that it felt incredible to see many people from different races, nationalities and political perspectives gather together to support the Palestinian community.
In addition, Dan encouraged more students to understand their power as students and use their voices to stand up against oppression.
“It's incredibly important for students to recognize the power that they hold [...] to express their opinions and solidarity with people who they may not see themselves as very similar to,” he said. “We all share struggles, and we all share this grief, and the sooner we recognize them, the sooner we can ameliorate it.”
In an interview with The News-Letter, Kisa, using a pseudonym, stressed that students should not be afraid to confront these complicated issues. Instead, she urged them to learn more about the conflict.
“It's really important that students understand that we're here, we're listening. We're going to support you. So speak out, do things and don't run away from it. Don't look away even if you don't have an opinion right now, even if you don't know what to do,” she said. “Educate yourself. Look at what is happening. Do not look away.”
With regard to the response of the University, students indicated discontent. Simegn noted that the University’s response was similar to what she expected of institutions Hopkins’ size but that she nevertheless felt disappointed.
Kisa also expressed her frustration about the administration’s response. She believed that the University administration should speak more on the conflict.
“There should be more work being done and yet we have news of the administration doing absolutely nothing or just keeping within themselves and speaking only to their own inner circles. We are here, we are listening and we're not hearing anything,” she said.
Assistant Vice President for Media Relations and News J.B. Bird addressed some of these concerns raised by students in an email to The News-Letter.
“The university is focused on supporting our community through a difficult time and working together with our students to fulfill our educational mission as a place that welcomes and supports every member of our community and ensures that everybody's voice is heard, especially when the topics we are discussing are challenging ones,“ he wrote.
Bird stated that different organizations of the University administration, including Student Affairs, Public Safety, the Office of International Services and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion have been in communication with student groups and individuals to provide support and ensure the safety of the community.
“Students can continue to expect to hear more from Student Affairs and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in the coming days and we are actively engaged in sharing educational opportunities with the JHU community related to the tragic ongoing events in the Middle East,“ he wrote. “We urge all members of our community to look out for and respect each other's well-being.”