Student leaders and local organizers gathered for a vigil and memorial on campus

Students, faculty, staff and community members shared moments of silence and solemnity at the vigil on Dec. 7. Photo courtesy of Students for Justice in Palestine on Instagram


Song, poetry, speech and prayer combined at a vigil and memorial display organized by student organizations and community partners at Star Fountain on Dec. 7. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Muslim Student Association (MSA) and Jewish Voice for Peace Indiana (JVP) collectively organized a candlelit vigil to honor the tens of thousands of Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip in the last two months following years of conflict and October’s Hamas attacks in Israel, which resulted in approximately 1,200 deaths. 

The vigil featured speakers and representatives from each aforementioned organization, as well as additional students and staff present for support. Some speakers shared prayers and words of reverent remembrance, while others shared poems and personal reflections on the impact of recent events, as well as decades of ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By reading the individual names of some killed in Gaza, the organizers of the vigil compelled attendants to remember and reflect upon the value of Palestinian lives, as well as the call for renewed hope and action for a permanent ceasefire to end the violence. 

Organizers also assembled a memorial commemorating lost Palestinian lives, planting over 12,000 white flags on the North Mall, an amount not representative of the higher total death count in Gaza. 

Sumaiyah Ryan, a sophomore public health and sociology double major, serves on both MSA and SJP’s executive boards, and found inspiration for the memorial from other university students across the country. 

“I was scrolling on Instagram, and I saw that Syracuse MSA set up a memorial on one of their lawns with the white flags,” Ryan said. “I sent it to our groups, and I was like, ‘Hey, do you think this is something that we could do?’ … We started planning [over Thanksgiving break], and we reached out to our community partner, Jewish Voice for Peace, which we’ve worked with a lot, especially when organizing protests and other events throughout the past couple months.” 

A junior student who wished to remain anonymous was involved with organizing the event. They shared that the groups worked together to organize logistical support for the memorial, while the idea for the vigil was conceived later. 

“[Over Thanksgiving break] we had a few Zooms to meet and start getting stuff ordered and planned, [because we] originally planned for [the memorial] to be Monday right after [break], but it just wasn’t going to work,” the student said. “We thought it would be nice to do that out on the Mall … with that, we could also host a vigil [with] the memorial, and invite a ton of different people from different backgrounds to come and join us.” 

The flags were placed on the Mall the night before the vigil. While students were constructing the memorial, Butler University Police Department officers explained they received two separate calls from students, who they did not identify, concerned for their own safety. The vigil remained peaceful, and organizers cleaned up the memorial immediately following the event. 

This vigil marks the latest in a series of several local Indianapolis events and protests organized jointly by both Butler student organizations and local partners such as JVP. On campus events such as SJP’s “Pali 101” and “Call Your Senator” have offered chances for students to engage both educationally and politically with the missions of the organization, as well as off campus protests for direct action. 

The anonymous student shared that the vigil and memorial were an opportunity for the campus and local community to mourn and reflect. 

“Throughout the last two months, a lot of people haven’t only been mourning, but they’ve been having to advocate [for themselves] and justify their mourning at the same time,” the student said. “Being able to put this huge memorial out in the middle of the Mall for every single person — whether they work for Butler, are students or just visiting — to see this was very important and very significant … The hope was really just for people to contemplate.” 

In this spirit of unity, attendees and speakers at the vigil spanned a variety of identities and walks of life. The vigil was not affiliated with any particular religion, and featured speakers from Muslim, Jewish and Christian organizations who each offered their own ways of honoring and mourning lost Palestinian lives through prayers and poetry. 

Student organizers found solidarity in the vigil’s diverse attendance and encouraged the community to continue to honor the humanity of Palestinian lives. 

Sophomore computer science major Omar Daas was encouraged by the community’s powerful display of shared struggle. 

“Being able to see different groups at the vigil, not just the people who felt directly affected by this, says that this is more than just a racial or Palestinian issue,” Daas said. “This is more than that. This is a human issue, that humans from different groups and different religions can all look at it for the humanitarian disaster and crisis that it is.” 

The renewed hope and unity that the vigil and memorial cultivated remains with the event’s organizers, who plan to continue mobilizing through events and opportunities for students and members of the Butler community to join their mission. 

“Right now, our immediate goal looks like fighting until there’s a ceasefire, but after that, we have to keep fighting for the end of apartheid and the end of oppression because there are still continuous bombings happening every few years in Gaza,” Ryan said. “So we have a short-term fight for a ceasefire, but we all have a long-term fight for freedom and liberation.” 


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