Students gathered at SpectrUM’s anti-hate candlelight vigil Wednesday night at the Rock as part of the organization’s Coming Out Week activities meant to commemorate all those who have lost their lives to hate crimes.
A hate crime is defined as an aggressive or violent act taken against a person on the basis of his or her religion, race, gender, sexual orientation or nationality. While the vigil was organized by SpectrUM, its aim was to address hatred as it applies to various groups of people and not just the gay community.
The vigil also meant to unite students from different cultural, social and political backgrounds. Students in attendance included members of vastly different campus groups such as SpectrUM, Best Buddies, United Black Students, Greenpeace and Sigma Phi Epsilon, among many others.
Each student was given a white rose, a candle and a nametag bearing the name of a victim of a violent hate crime. Students then listened to a diverse panel of speakers discuss the issues of hatred and bigotry.
In her speech to the crowd, Pat Whitely, vice president for student affairs, recalled a UM far different from the one students know today.
“Fifteen years ago there wasn’t a group like SpectrUM,” Whitely said. “It started underground because people were scared something would happen to them on campus.”
The vigil also marked the seventh anniversary of the death of Mathew Shepard, a 21-year-old University of Wyoming student who was brutally beaten and left for dead on account of his sexual orientation. News of Shepard’s death rocked the nation, bringing the ugly truth about hate crimes into every living room in America.
“We must never forget what happened to Matthew Shepard as we work towards creating an environment where people can embrace and respect each others’ differences,” Whitely said.
Also in attendance at the vigil was Best Buddies president Anya Edun, whose organization works to promote one-on-one relationships with individuals with intellectual disabilities. Edun pointed out the fact that the disabled also suffer the effects of discrimination and prejudice because they are in a wheelchair, or have Down syndrome or other disabilities that label them as not being “normal.”
“I’m grateful for an event like this because so often disabled people are overlooked when you think about prejudice and discrimination,” Edun said.
In addition to speaking out against hatred and its destructive effects, the vigil also empowered students to believe in their abilities to make changes in the world by doing their part to eliminate it.
“I thought it was a very good vigil,” John Constantinide, junior, said. “Even though it’s yearly and repeats the same theme, it’s good to remind people of what’s going on because if they’re not, it brings about ignorance, which in turn brings about disregard.”
Marina Nazir can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.