Students honor victims of Wisconsin Sikh shooting

Todd Needle/Daily
LSA sophomore Harleen Kaur and Public Policy senior Shelley Kaur light candles on the Diag during a vigil Wednesday. Buy this photo

By Kasey Cox, For the Daily
Published September 26, 2012

With candles in hand, about 70 students gathered on the steps of the Hatcher Graduate Library Wednesday night to honor the victims of the Wisconsin Sikh Gurudwara shooting that occurred early last month.

The vigil, organized by the Sikh Student Association, drew representatives from student groups including the Hindu Students Council, University of Michigan Hillel, South Asian Awareness Network, Interfaith Action, the Coalition for Queer People of Color and MuJew — a group that promotes Muslim and Jewish collaboration. Together, selected members of the organizations spoke to raise awareness about hate crimes and social injustice.

Though more than a month has passed since the tragedy — in which a white shooter entered the Oak Creek Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisc., killing six people and wounding three — students at the vigil emphasized that it is important to honor the victims of the event and reflect on overcoming cultural misunderstandings.

Rackham student Anneeth Hundle said it was important to recognize the shooting, particularly since many students were not on campus at the time.

“It was a great and important event to have because there are so many Sikh students on campus,” Hundle said. “The event happened over the summer, so people felt really alienated about what happened and there needed to be sort of some visibility surrounding the violence that happened and the politics that happened.”

Arvind-Pal Mandair, an Asian Languages and Culture professor, was among numerous faculty members in attendance, and said honoring the victims is important not just in showing respect for the Sikh community, but for all groups affected by violence.

“We think this is not just something that affected Sikhs,” Mandair said. “It is very much affecting ethnic minorities at large, but it’s about America itself. So we’d like to really discuss this at a very serious level.”

LSA sophomore Courtney Green said she was inspired to attend the vigil after receiving an e-mail about the event, and enjoyed seeing support from a variety of organizations representing different backgrounds.

“What makes it so great is the diversity in this country and the willingness of supporting each other no matter what our background is,” Green said.

When the shooting happened on Aug. 5, LSA senior Marisa Perera was visiting Northern India. Though she is not Sikh, the solidarity she saw during her visit motivated her to honor the victims at the University.

“Being here, just being around students, students with such a strong faith, it was just beautiful,” Perera said. “It was so calm to see another side of it to see the great things, the positive things that such a negative event can bring up.”

Green said she felt the event was effective in raising awareness about hate crime and injustice and was impressed by the diversity of the crowd, though noted she would like to see greater attendance at future events.

“I think that this is a great start and this is how you start spreading the word,” Green said. “We took pictures and we can spread that on Facebook, so its impact will definitely go beyond just this.”