The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

Students hold candlelight vigil for Gaza, supporting Palestine

Annalisa Madonia
Students and community members gather on the Waterman green Oct. 19.

Students and community members gathered on the Waterman green on Oct. 19 to hold a candlelight vigil for Gaza.

There were approximately 120 people in attendance, according to a UVM police officer present. 

The event was sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine, a student organization that is not listed as an SGA-recognized club. 

“[The vigil was] to honor the Palestinian people and the Palestinian struggle for liberation,” stated an Oct. 16 post on the SJP Instagram page. 

Prior to the event, a crowd began to form around the Waterman green fountain, with some people carrying Palestinian flags. 

The vigil began at 7:30 p.m. with student organizers from SJP inviting members of the crowd to speak. During the event, a few cars drove by and honked in support or shouted “Free Palestine.”

A junior student organizer for SJP, who wished to remain anonymous, began by dedicating the vigil to the Palestinian lives lost in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. 

“We’re here tonight as students, peers, community members [and] above all as humans to stand in reflection and in memorial of brothers, sisters and siblings who lost their lives in Palestine, not just in the past couple of weeks, but in the past 75 years,” he said. 

The Oct. 7 surprise attack on Israel by Hamas, a Palestinian militant group, resulted in the deaths and abduction of dozens of Israelis, according to an Oct. 7 Associated Press article

Israel’s retaliation has since intensified the conflict in Gaza, according to a Nov. 1 Associated Press article

The recent conflict between Israel and Hamas is the latest in a series of military conflicts over land rights that have been occurring since the formation of Israel in 1948, according to an Oct. 11 Reuters article

United Nations human rights advisors have raised concerns about the humanitarian and legal threats caused by the increase and acceleration of Israel’s attacks on Gaza following Hamas’s attack, according to a Oct. 19 UN press release

The University corresponded with SJP regarding the vigil, stated Adam White, executive director for communications, in an Oct. 31 email to the Cynic.

“The University was in contact with student organizers of the Vigil for Gaza before, during, and after the event,” the email stated. “The event appeared to be well attended and went smoothly.”

The student organizer said during the vigil that Palestinian students on campus were scared and tired of having to hide their identity as Palestinians.

“I’m ashamed to say that many students were afraid to even speak here tonight for fear that they would face repercussions for speaking at a vigil,” he said. 

The student organizer said that Palestinian students have been denied the space to grieve on campus, and that the vigil aimed to provide that space.

“That is why we’re all here tonight,” he said. “Each and every one of you sends a message to our Palestinian peers in our community [and] across the world that they are not alone, that we have their backs and we support them.”

The student organizer said that he believes UVM has allowed itself to be “bullied” by Jewish groups to the point where it has cultivated a hostile environment for Palestinian supporters. 

The student organizer said that he was referring to a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education by Jewish student groups last year.

The U.S. DOE investigated UVM in Sept. 2022 after complaints of antisemitic discrimination against students were filed by Jewish nonprofit organizations, according to a Sept. 14, 2022 Cynic article.

The investigation ended in April 2023, with the U.S. DOE Office for Civil Rights concluding that UVM had failed to properly address allegations of antisemitism, according to an April 12 Cynic article

The student organizer said that he believes UVM, in the wake of the U.S. DOE investigation, has created an antagonistic environment on campus for Palestinian students.

“The University administration, while they did not completely kowtow to their demands, have allowed themselves to be bullied far too much by them into creating a culture that is hostile to Palestinian students and allies,” he said. 

Senior Emerson, who wished to keep their last name anonymous, said that they attended the vigil as a way of combating the feeling of helplessness about the conflict and to elevate voices they felt had been suppressed.

“With everything that’s going on right now, and with feeling like there’s very limited things that you can physically do to help the situation, the most important thing to do right now is to show up and to listen to the voices that actually do matter,” they said. 

Emerson said they were frustrated by an Oct. 10 email titled “Reflecting on the tragedy in Israel and Gaza,” from President Suresh Garimella and Provost Patricia Prelock that was addressed to the UVM community. 

“Saturday’s violence targeting Israeli citizens and the turmoil, anguish, and destruction that have followed leave us heartbroken and concerned,” the email stated. “Acts of terrorism can never be justified.” 

In the Oct. 10 email, the University also promised to provide continued support for its faculty, staff and students affected by the tragedy. It also directed students to resources such as the Dean of Students Office, the UVM Interfaith Center, the Center for Health and Wellbeing, as well as UVM Hillel and Chabad. 

“At UVM, we will ensure our students, staff, and faculty have appropriate support, now and in the future, and we must maintain civility, respect, and care for one another even under the most challenging circumstances,” the email stated. 

“The fact that they had sent an email about this conflict in the Middle East and never mentioned Palestine, never mentioned Palestinian liberation, gave absolutely no context to the issue and sent out an email to a body of students that are already nearly clueless about this…that sends a message and it’s not the right one,” Emerson said.

Emerson said that they feel the University’s handling of the situation is part of a continuing trend of the administration’s hypocrisy regarding social justice issues. 

“UVM calls itself a progressive and liberal place where people can feel safe and stand up for what they believe in and that minorities are celebrated and it’s a complete lie,” they said. “You see it everywhere on campus. It’s absolutely not new.” 

First-year Muhammad, who also wished to keep his last name anonymous, said that he attended the vigil because he is Arab and wanted to support his Palestinian friends. 

“The main reason I came is because I’m Arab,” he said. “I owe it to my Palestinian friends, some of whom are my closest people to me, to show up and be able to support them. “

Muhammad said he thinks the conflict between Israel and Palestine is bigger than a conflict over religion or nationality. 

“Everyone that is affected by this are humans,” he said. “Here, we’re not mourning them for their religion or their ethnicity, we’re mourning them as humans.”

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About the Contributor
Annalisa Madonia
Annalisa Madonia, Co-Photo Editor
(She/her)  Annalisa Madonia is a sophomore majoring in public communication with minors in food systems, applied design and nutrition and food sciences. She joined the Cynic as a staff photographer before taking on the role of photo editor. In her free time, she loves to combine her passion for baking and photography with food photography. Email [email protected] to get in contact with Annalisa.