Dual-university vigil continues support for Orlando and all cultural identities

Dual-university vigil continues support for Orlando and all cultural identities

Dual-university vigil continues support for Orlando and all cultural identities
June 16
22:31 2016

Matt Payne | Features Editor

@MattePaper

For the second time since Sunday at the Downtown Square, hundreds of students and community leaders gathered for a candlelight vigil at the Library Mall to mourn the 49 massacred at gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando and to inspire their community to support one another.

The vigil was a collaboration between UNT and Texas Woman’s University with funds provided by the Denton Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Representatives of the UNT Pride Alliance, Multicultural Center and Office of Spiritual Life opened the mic for anybody to offer words of encouragement, and several people of different identities and cultures lamented in collective regret for the deaths of 49 individuals among distraught attendees.

Students, faculty, staff and Denton locals attend a vigil Thursday in the Library Mall memorating the 49 people shot dead in Orlando, Florida Sunday morning. The vigil was a collaborative of UNT and Texas Women's University.

Students, faculty, staff and Denton locals attend a vigil Thursday in the Library Mall commemorating the 49 people shot dead in Orlando, Florida Sunday morning. The vigil was a collaborative of UNT and Texas Women’s University. Hannah Breland | Staff Photographer

Kathleen Hobson, the director of the Pride Alliance, expressed that one purpose of the vigil was to acknowledge the intersectionality between three demographics that were directly affected by the Orlando massacre: the LGBT community, Muslims and Latinos. For Hobson, the vigil was a catalyst for further inter-sectional and collaborative programming between different UNT offices and students in the future.

“One of our main goals was to touch on all of the identities that have been affected by the tragedy in Orlando,” Hobson said. “I think this is a spotlight on why we need a support system so much and why working together is essential in times like this.”

Hobson said she believes the deadliest mass shooting on U.S. soil will be on the forefront of the nation’s mind for an indefinite time. In a college environment that is populated by several inter-sectional identities, she expressed the necessity to stay cognizant of the potential for such conflict.

“We just need to be very conscious of the fear that events like this instill in our students and faculty and staff, and do our best that we’re acknowledging that fear and doing the best that we can to respond to that for our students,” Hobson said.

Administrative action from now until the fall semester begins was addressed by vice president for institutional equity and diversity Joanne Woodard. She underscored the importance of offices like the Pride Alliance and the Division of Student Affairs facilitating dialogues about issues in race, gender and religion.

The administrative goal, Woodard said, is to improve the student body’s awareness of these offices and their efficacy in providing safe havens to express different viewpoints and identities.

A supporter who attended a vigil hosted by Texas Woman's University and the University of North Texas bows her head Thursday in the Library Mall at UNT as others commemorate the 49 dead and 53 injured at Pulse in Orlando, Florida on Sunday. Hannah Breland | Staff Photographer

A supporter who attended a vigil hosted by Texas Woman’s University and the University of North Texas bows their head Thursday in the Library Mall at UNT as others commemorate the 49 dead and 53 injured at Pulse in Orlando, Florida on Sunday. Hannah Breland | Staff Photographer

“I think the lack of communication and ignorance is the cause of a lot of the problems emphasized tonight,” Woodard said. “The more we can engage in activities like this – having the difficult dialogues that are sometimes hard to talk about – we can have the safe spaces where people can talk about these issues and learn more.”

Woodard also addressed the need to better educate the community on what is permissible and what is not regarding the new campus carry policy mandated by House Bill 11. When informed that professors are already including personal policies to prohibit firearms despite the new campus-wide policy effective August, Woodard underscored that the policy has already been approved, will be followed and that instructors need to improve efforts in clearly addressing the policy to their students.

Ashfaq Aslam, UNT HR Management grad student, holds a sign with a verse from the Quran that reads, "If anyone kills an innocent, it will be as if he has kille the Whole of humanity. (Quran 5:32)" Aslam says that Islam only promotes peace, never hate.

Ashfaq Aslam, UNT HR Management grad student, holds a sign with a verse from the Quran that reads, “If anyone kills an innocent, it will be as if he has kille the Whole of humanity. (Quran 5:32)” Aslam says that Islam only promotes peace, never hate. Hannah Breland | Staff Photographer

“People would like to say [guns are] not allowed, but we have a very clear policy that’s been approved by our Board of Regents that the university will be following as we approach the next academic year,” Woodard said.

She also acknowledged the UNT Pakistani Student Organization who expressed regret toward the massacre in Orlando. Officers pleaded those in attendance to beware of burgeoning Islamophobia in the aftermath of the actions of one extremist, Omar Mateen, and to not see one variant as a representative of their faith as a whole.

The Pakistani Student Organization also clarified that Islam forbids the killing of any individual as an act against humanity, and Ashfaq Aslam, one of their officers, asserted the importance to protest acts of terrorism.

“Islam is a way of peace and a way of life. That is the teaching of our holy prophet,” Aslam said. “It is very important to condemn all these acts because our religion does not revolve around these criminals.”

Carmen Cruz, a psychologist for the TWU counseling department, spoke about the importance of cultural awareness within and beyond campus life. She had originally met Hobson through community outreach programs for the LGBT community.

In her 20 years as a TWU psychologist, she has co-created the Queer Council of Denton and was invited by Hobson to speak on behalf of TWU at tonight’s vigil.

“Like any community, I feel like there’s a substantial amount of people who are trying to understand people different than them, and then I think there are people for whom it doesn’t matter,” Cruz said. “I think both [UNT and TWU] espouse those values to their communities, but it’s going to take further effort moving forward.”

Regardless of whether campus carry will enable people to more easily conduct crime, Cruz believes the chief priority for administration on both campuses is education and protection of those on and off campus. Though she regrets that mass shootings have become commonplace and have pushed the U.S. into a fear-based society, she said instructors need to be aware of the anxiety that is not only in the minds of their students, but their own.

As the large audience listened to the 49 names of those killed at Pulse in Orlando, one of Cruz’s statements served as a motif for why Denton has gathered for a community thousands of miles away.

“We need to think about all the lives and identities around us tonight,” Cruz said. “Everybody here is a multicultural being.”

Featured Image: A supporter who attended a vigil hosted by Texas Woman’s University and the University of North Texas bows her head Thursday in the Library Mall at UNT as others commemorate the 49 dead and 53 injured at Pulse in Orlando, Florida on Sunday. Hannah Breland | Staff Photographer

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