Two hundred students, faculty and staff gathered on the Diag at 6 p.m. Saturday night to partake in a protest titled “Opposing Intimidation!”
The protest was organized by Music, Theatre & Dance senior James Ross Kilmeade in response to an incident Friday evening in which a student was approached by a man who demanded she remove her hijab or he would use a lighter to set her on fire. This incident is still under investigation by the Ann Arbor Police Department.
According to Kilmeade’s post on the Facebook event, the protest aimed to generally respond to the hatred he feels has been validated by the recent election.
Before the protest began, Kilmeade said he had created the event only hours before it started and hoped to reach as many people as possible.
“Today I woke up and said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do but I have to stand and do something,” he said. “People have to feel safe and it’s absurd that they don’t. It’s our responsibility to be out here for them.’ ”
LSA senior Adrian Rakochi said he heard about the protest through an email sent to the Arabic Activities club, and expressed his frustration with recent incidents following the election, both locally and nationally.
“I wanted to go,” he said. “I feel like we haven’t had enough protests in Ann Arbor about this whole thing anyway. I just showed up and let some friends know about it. I made a sign. I am very upset.”
Rakochi’s sign read, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”
LSA senior Louisa Kane held up a poster that read, “You belong here,” in both English and Arabic. She said she felt that all students on campus should be speaking up at events like this.
“Why should anyone feel like they don’t belong here?” she said. “It’s absurd. Everyone should be here right now, saying that they love and support every part of this community, regardless of whether or not they identify with that religion or ethnicity. Everyone should be here.”
During the protest, the ‘M’ in the Diag was outlined with candles, and protesters gathered to hear one another speak.
Art & Design senior Keysha Wall addressed the crowd on the election results, saying she was concerned about people who support the marginalizing rhetoric of Donald Trump.
“You saw all of this happening before Donald Trump even became president,” she said. “When I saw that he had gotten elected, he wasn’t the first thing I was afraid of. The first thing I was afraid of were the people who are like that who are emboldened by that, who are emboldened by his actions, him being on TV, him being able to say those things, who had already felt like they could get away with that sort of thing on this campus for years.”
Moving forward, she said, the most important thing the community can do is unite and fight back against prejudicial sentiment and violence.
“We must turn our solemnity into power and love for one another, into action, into strength, because that is our strength.”
Also in regard to the election results, Music, Theatre & Dance junior Keem Avraham said it is important to talk to others in the campus community and educate people who have different beliefs.
“You know people who voted for Donald Trump, and what Donald Trump does is endorse the idea that being racist — discriminating against marginalized identities — is OK,” he said. “He has endorsed that idea as a human American practice. As a friend of this community, this progressive-minded community, it is your job to change someone, so that they can positively affect somebody else.”
Multiple campus events have occurred since Trump’s election. On Wednesday, a vigil took place in the Diag to protest President-elect Trump’s controversial win. University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel spoke of the need to support threatened minorities and called for University-wide support in action.
LSA senior Arielle Chen told the crowd she thought it was important for students to speak out and show up at activism events even if they are speaking from a place of privilege as an ally.
“I am so tired of hearing people say, ‘I’m sorry this is happening. I’m so sorry,’ ” she said. “Silence means that you are allowing it, that you are supporting it. Silence means ism is OK. If you do nothing, if you say nothing, you are supporting it. People need you to show up now. If this is the first time you have ever stood at a protest, we need you to continue showing up. I ask you to show up for your friends, for the person standing next to you, for the person across the circle that you have never talked to.”
LSA sophomore Ilina Krishen said she thought there is a certain danger in being a bystander.
“Being a bystander is the worst thing you can do, even worse than being the bully,” she said. “Looking away from a crime does not hide the crime. I’m asking everyone who has privilege to use that privilege to speak up for those who are in a tough situation.”
Beyond the event itself, University alum Jessica Hicks added a link to the Facebook event for a Google Doc sign-up sheet so that individuals could walk anyone home who felt uncomfortable after the protest.