After attacks, students gather on Diag in solidarity with France

Sunday, November 15, 2015 - 1:48pm

With Paris still reeling after a series of terrorist attacks hit the city Friday night, about 80 students gathered on the Diag Saturday evening to light candles in a show of solidarity with the people of France.

According to French authorities, at least 129 people were killed in shootings at a Paris concert hall and on city streets, as well as explosions near the entryways of the Stade de France soccer stadium. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, better known as ISIS, claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Saturday’s vigil was organized by several students from France currently studying abroad at the University. They reached out to community members through social media to support those grieving civilian lives lost in their country. Students lit memorial candles and stood for a moment of silence before singing the French national anthem.

In a speech to attendees, LSA senior Bertrand de La Ronciere, a French international exchange student, highlighted his fear that the recent attacks would exacerbate racist and Islamophobic tensions he said are already present in Europe. Shortly after the attacks, French President Francois Hollande ordered the country’s borders closed.

During the vigil, de La Ronciere challenged those gathered on the Diag to promote the acceptance and integration of immigrant communities, particularly the thousands of refugees who have been fleeing Syria in recent months for safety in Europe and elsewhere.

“This that happened yesterday, they didn’t bring it,” he said. “They did not want it. They did not approve it. On the contrary, this that happened yesterday is what they were fleeing from.”

Even so, de La Ronciere said Saturday’s Diag gathering made him optimistic.

“It’s a big message of hope to see that so many people are so full of solidarity,” he said.

Engineering junior Julia Habif, who has many relatives in France, said she felt comforted by the demonstration of support from students who may not be as closely connected to the country. Habif’s family is Muslim, and she echoed de La Ronciere’s belief that she hopes Friday’s attacks do not increase racism toward Muslims.

“I see the racism,” she said. “I see the split. I think that the more hatred there is, the more division and the more people feel isolated.”

LSA senior Roxane Chambaug, an exchange student from southern France, said the event provided her with a sense of unity at a time when she felt very distant from her home.

“To me it’s about France, but not only about France,” she said. “It’s about all the lives that are being killed without any purpose. Of course I’m very moved … it happened in my country and it could have happened in my city.”

Nursing junior Matt White joined in mourning the victims of the Paris attacks, though he has no direct connections to France.

“I felt like I had to come to show my respects and show that I care,” he said.

White said the University community’s demonstration of solidarity was important not only in showing support for those affected, but also in helping University students reflect on the tragic events.  

“It shows that we care and that even though this happened halfway across the world, we stand with them,” he said. “And it also helps us process what happened.”

On Saturday morning, the University confirmed that all 14 University-affiliated students, faculty and staff registered as having traveled to France are accounted for.

LSA freshman Maya Bishop said she also saw the vigil as a protest against the divides acts of terrorism attempt to create.

“What happened was an affront not just to France, but to all civilized and modern countries that have these values,” Bishop said. “(Terrorism) is trying to break people apart and make them scared, and this is the only way to combat that.”

LSA junior Theresa Witt, a foreign exchange student from Germany, said the attacks in Paris hit close to home for her because of the the city’s close proximity to her hometown.

However, she said, the attacks also remind her of other global tragedies that do not seem to receive as much media attention. She referenced the bombings in Beirut two days ago and the continuing violence in Syria, which she said the media has largely ignored compared to its coverage of the Paris attacks.  

“I very strongly think about all the people in Beirut today, about Syria, where it happens daily,” she said. “I feel with all the people there.”