Yesterday, the one-month anniversary of the terrorist attack on New York City and Washington, D.C., was greeted by college students nationwide as an occasion for observance and reflection. Here at the University of Chicago, some students responded to the events of the past month by organizing a 24-hour peace vigil and sit-in, while others spoke out in support of the war.
Starting at 8:48 this morning, the same time that the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York last month, students began to congregate around the flagpole in the main quad to light candles and talk to each other about issues that were pressing on their minds. Over the course of the day, the vigil attracted students as they crossed the quads going to and from classes.
Organizers of the event, members of the newly-formed group Students for Peaceful Justice (SPJ), wanted to create a chance for students to open up and talk to a receptive group of people about events that had rattled them all. We wanted to ask the students here at U of C to put down Plato for a little while and acknowledge that there is a major crisis effecting millions of people in the world today," said Lauren Kroiz, a fourth-year in the College.
SPJ was formed as a coordinated effort by as many as 50 other activists on campus. I am excited and encouraged by the fact that during all my time working with activist groups on campus, I have never seen an event organized as quickly, as efficiently or as enthusiastically as this one," said Ella Hereth, a second-year in the College and one of the main organizers of this event.
Beginning with smaller-scale ideas such as candle lightings in the lobby of Cobb Hall, Students for Peaceful Justice were soon led to the idea of a vigil on the anniversary of September 11. Our generation has never seen anything like the recent events, neither has the rest of the world," said Lenore Palladino, a fourth-year and another organizer of the event. More than anything, we just want an opportunity to recognize the confusion of our generation and create a safe, prejudice-free space for discussion."
Throughout the day students filtered in and out of the area to show their support for the open forum that had been created, to argue a specific point, to support or protest the pro-peace atmosphere that permeated the event, or to just come and listen.
Not everyone on campus supported the pro-peace orientation of the vigil. Many students said that the people who had organized the vigil had failed to capture the mood of the nation and even the attitudes of most people on campus. We want to remind U of C students of the alternate views that many people hold," said Sara Butler, a second-year in the College and member of the U of C College Republicans.
The U of C College Republicans set up a table in the Reynolds Club to pass out red, white, and blue ribbons and to distribute posters asking students to support American troops.
The Republicans wanted to commemorate the anniversary of the tragic events in some way, but they also wanted to express their alternate opinion about the circumstances of the past month. Because these events hit so close to home, many students have expressed support for the decision to bomb Afghanistan.
The people organizing the vigil are not expressing the American point of view on this matter," said Aaron Berlin, a first-year in the College and one of the people manning the Republican table in the Reynolds Club.
We need to remember that 90 percent of Americans do support our troops taking action, and that even though students at U of C are typically pro-peace, they are not the voice of the majority of Americans."
From their table in the Reynolds Club, the College Republicans managed to hand out 650 ribbons to people passing by and succeeded in having their posters as widely seen around campus as those supporting peace.
In general, I was very impressed by the level of maturity with which everyone conducted themselves today. Everyone remained very open to one another; there was no feuding," said Justin Palmer, a third-year in the College and one of the Republicans helping to organize their effort.