‘Pray for Paris:’ UW-Whitewater students gather in solidarity for Paris, other nations

By Kimberly Wethal

Nov. 18, 2015

 

The UW-W campus mourned those who were impacted in the Paris terrorist attacks on Nov. 13 during the Peace for Paris event in Hyland Hall on Monday.

While the main topic of the gathering was to grieve the 129 people who died in the attacks on French soil, senior Dustin Rondeau and other students in attendance also reserved time to think about those who died this week in the bombings in Beirut and Baghdad.

Rondeau says it’s becoming too often that society is coming together to mourn victims of terrorist attacks.

“Whether it’s right here in Wisconsin, in the United States, or in this case, across the world, it’s truly disheartening to see the lives of so many innocent people taken for such petty reasons,” he said. “Nevertheless, at a time like this we are brought together with a strong sense of unity.”

The event featured speeches by faculty members Thomas Rios, vice chancellor for student affairs, and Candace Chenoweth, director of the Center for Global Education. A moment of silence was reserved for the lives lost and French national anthem played while students stood up in solidarity for France.

Chenoweth was “happy to report” that all four of the UW-W students studying abroad in France were located and were known to be safe as of last Saturday morning. One UW-W student who was studying abroad in Barcelona, whose program went to Paris for a weekend vacation was also contacted and was determined to be safe.

Four students who are studying abroad at UW-W from France have been contacted and made aware that counseling services are available for them on campus.

Knowing UW-W students were studying abroad near the terrorists wasn’t easy for Chenoweth.

“Last weekend was really hard for me,” Chenoweth said. “Obviously the mass murders in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad have left us reeling a little bit. Some of us may be angry, some of us may be afraid, and perhaps you, like me, just feel a little numb from the sheer scale of all of this horror.”

Under attack

Eight terrorists initiated six attacks in Paris on Friday, of which ISIS has claimed responsibility. In addition to the 129 killed, another 352 were injured. None of the terrorists walked away alive.

ISIS refers to an extremist militant group in the Middle East who has taken over parts of Syria and other land around it.

This is the second terrorist attack for Paris in less than a year. On Jan. 7, two brothers forced their way into the office of weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, where they opened fire on cartoonists and editors, killing 11 people.

In response to the attacks, French president Francois Hollande stated in a speech to a joint session of France’s parliament that “France is at war” and proposed a three-month extension of the nation’s emergency laws that would make it easier to strip French-born terrorists of their citizenship.

Social media erupted with a sense of empathy towards France since Friday with a “Pray for Paris” campaign, as thousands of photos of a darkened Eiffel tower set side-by-side with other world landmarks lit up in the colors of France’s flag were shared. Facebook gave users the option to overlay their profile pictures with the stripes of the flag.

But with empathy also came hatred, as the Islamic religion was blamed, and prompted state governors throughout the U.S., including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, declaring they wouldn’t accept Syrian refugees as a result of the Paris attacks. The U.S. pledged to take in at least 10,000 refugees from the war-torn country in the next fiscal year.

However, it is unclear whether it is legal to ban refugees, Mark Toner, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, told NBC News on Monday, but there is currently no plan to change the nation’s policy on refugees.

Campus activism

Students have the potential to react positively to the violence occurring around the world, Chenoweth said.

One of those ways, she said, is to “protect your neighbors” who identify as Muslim, and to send them kind words.

“Time and time again, we’ve seen bad clashes against religious communities,” Chenoweth said. “Help your peers who may be Muslim, who may be Saudi. Help them to feel safe by offering them your company, and your online voice.”

Chenoweth and Rios also encourages discussion on the impact that cross-cultural knowledge can have on the world, and wants students to start talking about religious violence.

“Help you and your peers process what is going on in this crazy world we live by talking,” she said. “We need to think about engaging with one another, not pulling apart or dividing from one another.”

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