May 06, 2014

SLU Community Stands United Against Intolerance

JSA vigil
Michael Lasky, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, discussed the horrors of the Holocaust during a candlelight vigil held Sunday night at the clock tower. Photo courtesy the SLU Jewish Student Association

More than 250 students, faculty, staff and administrators gathered at the clock tower Sunday night to show their support for those affected by acts of bias and to stand against hate and prejudice.

The candlelight vigil was sponsored by SLU's Jewish Student Association (JSA) and included student speakers representing the JSA, the Diversity Leadership Cabinet, the Interfaith Alliance, the Rainbow Alliance, the Hispanic-American Leadership Organization and the Disability Service Club.

Students reflected on the horrors of the Holocaust, talked about acts of hate still committed around the world, and shared their own personal experiences with prejudice and bias. Students also offered Islamic, Christian and Jewish prayers for peace. The event concluded with a moment of silence, with event organizers calling for the SLU community to come together to fight intolerance.

Among the University leaders in attendance were Bill Kauffman, interim president; Kent Porterfield, Ed.D., vice president for student development; Paul Stark, S.J., vice president for mission and ministry; Jay Goff, vice president for enrollment and retention management; Mona Hicks, dean of students; and Michelle Lewis, director of institutional equity and diversity.

Numerous faculty representing multiple academic units — including the College for Public Health and Social Justice, College of Arts and Sciences, and School of Medicine — were on hand to support the students. Representatives of external organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, also were in attendance.

JSA President Sarah Friedman, a junior occupational therapy major in the Doisy College of Health Sciences, said the organization was overwhelmed by the show of support Sunday night.

"It was unbelievable that everyone was there to support us and each other," she said. "It's amazing that SLU and St. Louis are working together to be against this."

Friedman added that the vigil sends a strong message to the individuals who engage in acts of bias.

"It shows them that we're not going to tolerate their behavior or actions," she said. "They're the smallest minority at SLU."

The vigil had been in the works for weeks as JSA's annual Holocaust memorial. The event took on new meaning following an April 23 bias incident involving a display of candles outside a residence hall being altered into the shape of swastika. In that case, University officials have said they believe they have identified the parties responsible, and student conduct charges are pending.

On Sunday, Kauffman and Porterfield sent a message to the SLU community in St. Louis alerting them to a bias incident that occurred Saturday night in Busch Student Center involving an unknown person or persons changing the text on a display screen to hateful speech. SLU officials have launched a full investigation into that incident and are encouraging those with information to come forward.

In addition to calling the Department of Public Safety at 314-977-3000, confidential and anonymous reports can be made by visiting the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness website or by calling 1-877-525-5669.

To learn more about SLU's Hate Crimes and Bias-Related Incident Protocol, as well as how to report bias incidents that occur on campus, visit the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity website.

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