Westminster Community Rallies for Peace, Unity
BY JIM MALVEN
Following a divisive presidential election, dozens of students and faculty members came together to promote unity and condemn hatred at a student-led “Rally for Peace” Wednesday afternoon.
“The hateful language coming from both sides of the political spectrum has shown how incredibly isolated and closed off we are from one another,” Erin Perry, ’17, said in her welcoming address. “I hope that this rally instills in all of us the urge for peace and vulnerability that will help us bridge that gap again.”
From atop the base of the Columns, students delivered prayers and called for action, Rev. Jamie Haskins led an anti-hate litany, Associate Professor of Music Dr. Natasia Sexton led musical performances and Chaplain Resident Maeba Jonas directed a moment of silence for victims of discrimination. Meanwhile, student attendees held signs saying “Hate Has No Home Here,” “We Stand on the Side of Love” and “Give Peace a Chance.”
Perry, one of the rally’s coordinators, said the event was started by a group of students who later sought the help of Haskins, Jonas and Sexton.
Although Perry said the purpose of the event was to unify Westminster’s student body after the presidential election, the event was not focused on bridging the gap between Democrats and Republicans as much as bridging the gap – and ending hate – between people of different genders, nationalities, ethnicities and religions.
To help foster interreligious communication, four students of varying faiths delivered an interfaith prayer. Each of the four students delivered a line of the prayer in a different language, alternating line by line. Reese Leech, ’17, (Wiccan Paganism) spoke in English; Fathimath Shafa, ’18, (Islam) spoke in Dhivehi; Tychirra Moreno, ’19, (Southern Baptist) spoke in Spanish; and Rupa Kumari, ’18, (Hinduism) spoke in Hindi. Collectively, the students asked to be blessed with the strength to act charitably and justly, so that they can create a more peaceful world.
Perry, the co-leader of the Interfaith Advisory Board, said that the interfaith prayer was “one of the most powerful parts of the rally.” She stated that it defied religious exclusion in a society where non-Christian religions are often considered abnormal and where their members are isolated, threatened and physically harmed.
Perry’s mother, Senior Vice President and Dean of Faculty Dr. Carolyn Perry, noted the numerous acts of aggression against minority groups since the election results. These had grown to more than 700 as of Sunday night, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Dr. Perry urged students to take measures to avoid and prevent such actions at Westminster.
“Students, going forward, we need you to use your heads, to think clearly and creatively, and to come together to problem solve and to solve the problems of this divided world together,” she said. “But at the same time, we implore you to engage your hearts, to lead us with character, conviction, compassion, and we will be right here beside you every step of the way.”
In a call to action on behalf of the Muslim community, Lejla Dervisevic, ’16, discussed the increases in anti-Muslim hate crimes and Islamophobia in the United States. She said that these have caused feelings of both fear and discrimination for Muslims living in the U.S.
Shafa, a Muslim student from the Maldives who participated in the interfaith prayer, expressed a similar sentiment.
“As a woman and as a Muslim who wears a hijab, I have to be constantly worried about my personal security the moment I leave (Westminster’s) campus,” she said. “I feel that I also have to keep reassuring that not all Muslims are bad, because I don’t want the person next to me on a bus to feel threatened just because of a piece of cloth covering my head.”
Dervisevic said that only interfaith collaboration and communication can end anti-Muslim hate: “As a Muslim, I cannot repeat enough how important it is to turn towards, instead of against each other, and realize that it is only love that can drive out hate, only love that can create a better tomorrow.”
Dr. Lisa Fein, associate professor of sociology, and Juan Manzo, ’17, also gave calls to action.
Fein discussed violence against women and said that Westminster needs to take action against these acts, which include psychological violence and domestic and sexual assault.
“This is something that we can stop; this is something that we can prevent,” Fein said. “This is something that we need to come together to address, because it’s unacceptable, and we cannot tolerate it.”
Manzo, a native of Guatemala, denounced “the hate” against Latinos and criticized U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump’s plan of building a wall to separate the U.S. and Mexico.
“A wall is made of hate that will divide people, and we don’t have to be divided,” he said.
It should be noted, though, that Trump’s ideas of what this “wall” will entail are currently unclear. Trump indicated on a Nov. 13 episode of “60 Minutes” that the wall may be part fence, and some of his surrogates have suggested that it could be more of a metaphor for enhancing border security.
In an act of further condemning hate, about 30 students representing different campus organizations participated in an anti-hate litany. Each group’s representative gave a statement of acceptance unique to his or her organization, followed by the words “because at Westminster,” to which the audience responded, “hate has no home here.”
The audience also helped sing the two songs that Sexton led Wednesday night – “We Will Not Be Moved,” a song that was inspired by the labor movements of the 1920s and 1930s and revived during the civil rights movement, and “If I Had a Hammer,” which was inspired by the progressive movement.
After closing statements from Carolyn and Erin Perry, in which Carolyn called Wednesday “an important day in the history of Westminster,” the two delivered a benediction together
“Go in peace, make peace and be the piece,” they said.
From both participants and attendees, reactions to the rally were immensely positive.
Dr. Heidi LaVine, associate professor of English, said that she was “very proud” of the student-organizers.
“I think this was a much-needed event, and I’m so pleased that they took the initiative to do it,” she said.
Erin commented that she was impressed by the turnout, especially from people outside of the Westminster community.
Shafa said that she was “overwhelmed by the support that the Westminster community showed to make the event happen in the first place.”
Jonas said that she and the rest of Student Life were “grateful to have support from dozens of on campus organizations, student groups, and departments.”
“We wish to provide a safe space for conversation and for building community,” she said. “We hope that this will be the first step in accomplishing that goal.”