Standing in solidarity with students at the University of California, Davis and University of California, Berkeley, about 40 University of Michigan students and faculty gathered on the Diag last night.

The vigil was organized by three Michigan Student Assembly commissions — the Transfer Student Commission, the Peace and Justice Commission and the Student Rights Commission — as a tribute to the students at UC Davis and UC Berkeley who faced opposition from campus authorities during protests. The vigil organizers believed that these incidents would resonate with Michigan students due to the University’s long-standing tradition of student activism.

MSA President DeAndree Watson said during the vigil that students, no matter where they’re from, should stand up for one another and their rights.

“We are here tonight to show our support for students around the world who have been denied a fundamental right to express themselves in a peaceful, organized demonstration,” DeAndree said. “We cannot afford to sit and acquiesce as students are struggling to be heard.”

In November 2009 at UC Berkeley, students were beaten on campus for protesting the 32-percent rise in tuition proposed by state officials. This past month, protesters on the UC Davis campus were pepper sprayed by police as they took part in the Occupy movement. The incident gained national attention since the students were sitting on the ground and were not being violent. Occupy protestors at UC Berkeley last month were also met with hostile responses by police.

Denzell Turner, co-vice chair of Here Earning A Destiny through honesty, eagerness, and determination of Self, spoke at the event and said the group has been planning events for students to teach people their rights when interacting with police or people of higher authority.

“Personally, I feel that (the incident at UC Davis) was completely unacceptable, and it should not have happened in the first place,” Turner said.

Ashley Williams, a former University of Michigan-Dearborn student, was the final speaker at the vigil and spoke about her experience as a victim of the education system. Williams said she graduated high school with a scholarship, Advance Placement credits and three college-level courses completed. But she said she became overwhelmed by financial problems, as she was forced to work 30 hours a week waiting tables while taking 15 credit hours. When the economy went sour and she was forced to take out $20,000 in student loans, she had to withdraw from school.

“I feel imprisoned by the same system that is supposed to set us free,” Williams said.

LSA junior Erin Reed, chair of the Student Rights Commission and one of the primary organizers of the vigil, said in an interview at the vigil that students should be mindful of the greater struggles that exist beyond their own lives.

“Even though finals are going on, there are definitely some key issues that we should question in the midst of all of our own personal chaos,” Reid said. “Our ability to participate and go to such a prestigious university as this does not come lightly. It is a privilege.”

On his way home, LSA junior Michael Yaari stopped on the Diag to learn what the vigil was about.

“I did not know that much about what had gone in California, but after listening to these speeches and standing in silence, I feel more passionate about responsibility to speak out as a student of this University,” Yaari said. “They cannot keep us quiet with pepper spray. We cannot let that happen.”

At the end of the vigil, Williams led the group to C.C. Little for the first Occupy Michigan meeting where the group officially declared the formation of the University of Michigan’s Occupy branch and set the agenda for future action.

Organizers plan to lead peaceful protests on campus against the cost of tuition and corporations’ influence on the University. Potential locations of protests include President Mary Sue Coleman’s front lawn and the Ross School of Business.

— Managing Photo Editor Jed Moch contributed to this report.

Clarification appended: A previous version of this article omitted one of the events that participants of the vigil discussed.

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