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A Vigil for Gaza: a safe space for Palestinian students


The Executive Editors and News Editors of The Olaf Messenger decided to dedicate this week’s news section to coverage of community reaction to the Israel-Hamas War.  Our coverage’s aim is not to explain the Israel-Hamas War in detail, but to recount reactions and events in our community. Our objective is to provide unbiased reporting that accurately reflects thoughts and opinions of various members and organizations of our community, its also important to note that St. Olaf responses have predominantly supported Palestine. We acknowledge that there are many different perspectives on the conflict, as our community is made up of a diverse group of individuals. The Olaf Messenger extends our condolences to those who are directly affected by these recent events. Campus resources and information about bias reporting can be found here.


The Cultural Union for Black Expression (CUBE), Armenian Student Association (ASA) and the Southwest Asia and North Africa Cultural Association (SWANA) arranged A Vigil for Gaza at St. Olaf, a safe space where students could mourn and honor the lives that were lost in Gaza.


The Vigil took place on Oct. 19 from 6 to 7 p.m. Several students — predominantly students of color — gathered at the steps of Boe Chapel where there were many candles lit. Members of CUBE had a brief moment of silence before opening up the space for those who wanted to speak out about their personal grievances or spread awareness about the genocide that is occurring in Gaza.


Alexys Sayegh ’24, a Palestinian student who attended the vigil, felt welcomed by the environment. Initially, she did not plan on speaking at the vigil, but she wanted to use her voice as a young Palestinian from the U.S. “I was able to share my opinion in the creation and planning of the vigil, and it was freeing to be able to have a space to talk about what would help with people who understand,” Sayegh said in an interview email with The Olaf Messenger. “When I shared at the vigil, I felt very passionate.”


The vigil was healing for Sayegh and helped her connect with Arab students at St. Olaf.


The student organizations CUBE, ASA, and SWANA moved quickly with the planning process as tragedy increased in Gaza. “When we first started planning, it started with myself and members of CUBE reaching out to some of the Palestinian students on campus as we wanted to show our support and give our solidarity as soon as possible,” CUBE Executive Member Brent Sykes ’24 said in an email interview with The Olaf Messenger.


“It is more important now than ever that Oles read. Read that article, read that book, watch that documentary,” said Sykes in an email to The Olaf Messenger. “It’s okay to not have a complete understanding and change your pre-existing thoughts. It’s okay to admit that we don’t know something. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And remember, complacency is complicity.”


These student organizations are working on creating peaceful and liberational events that honor individuals that died in Gaza and support Palestinian students who are mourning. “It felt good to be around students who cared about humanity, specifically the humanity of the people in my home country,” Sayegh said in an email to The Olaf Messenger. 


Alongside the events that took place in solidarity with Palestinian students, CUBE, ASA, and SWANA created a resource document for students to utilize, including ways to contact government officials and donations.

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