Recent tragedies around the nation have resonated with Cal Poly students and staff. In the course of eight days, three candlelight vigils were held in the community — a vigil for victims of domestic abuse, a vigil for people killed in the synagogue shooting and a vigil for the victims of the Kroger supermarket shooting. The vigils were hosted by Safer, three on-campus Jewish organizations and the Black Student Union (BSU), respectively.
Although the three vigils were held separately and focused on different community groups, each provided a space for the Cal Poly community to remember the lives lost and come together as one.
“It was really important to have [a] candlelight vigil just to have the space where everyone could come together and see that we had a community there to support them,” microbiology senior and Chabad at Cal Poly President Rachel Cohen said at the Synagogue shooting candlelight vigil.
Domestic Violence vigil
The first of the three vigils was held on Oct. 25, nearing the end of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Safer, Cal Poly’s confidential sexual assault and domestic violence resource, partnered with Rise. Inspire. Support. Empower. (RISE) — a non-profit organization aimed at providing resources to victims of domestic violence — and Stand Strong, the San Luis Obispo women’s shelter for victims of domestic assault or violence. They hosted an annual vigil honoring the lives of those who died as a result of domestic violence.
San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon spoke at the beginning of the event, followed by the testimonies from several domestic violence survivors.
“Help is available and we are here to provide it,” Harmon said. “We all have a role in ending this violence [and] a more peaceful community is possible if we work together.”
The vigil was one of hundreds across the country in October dedicated to both survivors and those who lost their lives to intimate partner violence. Harmon touched upon the increasing importance of supporting victims of this violence in our country’s current social climate.
“It seems like we are living in a time where patriarchy is really at its worst,” Harmon said. “We are feeling the effects of this everyday and violence is a direct outcome of the patriarchal structure that this country is really born from.”
Following Harmon’s introduction, speakers from RISE, Safer and Stand Strong spoke briefly about the startling extent of the issue of intimate partner violence nationwide and the group efforts that will be required to raise awareness to and ultimately bring about an end to the issue.
The vigil ended in a candlelit scene, reading off names of people who died from domestic violence.
On Sunday, Oct. 28, students and community members gathered in the University Union (UU) Plaza to honor those killed and injured in the shooting that took place at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh the day prior.
The shooting has been named the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States.
The vigil was hosted by Mustangs United for Israel, San Luis Obispo Hillel and Chabad at Cal Poly. Although the vigil was hosted by Jewish organizations, students and community members from all backgrounds attended.
San Luis Obispo Hillel Director Jake Kaufman said the vigil gave the entire community an opportunity to come together.
“I see the vigil as for the greater community, not just the Jewish students and the Jewish community members, and I think we saw that,” Kaufman said. “This is an opportunity for us to really come together as a Cal Poly community — all races, all faiths — and get to know each other better.”
Cohen said the vigil was important because it showed the presence of the Jewish community and the support they can give to students.
“As a group of students and as a campus, we want to remember the lives of everyone that we lost and that we don’t stand for any sort of hate or violence on our campus,” Cohen said.
Environmental management and protection senior and San Luis Obispo Hillel President Davina Shoumer said she hoped participants left the vigil feeling more supported and more knowledgeable.
“I think it’s important just to be knowledgeable and to be aware that things like this still happen,” Shoumer said. “It’s not something in the past anymore, we should all strive to educate ourselves and be more aware.”
Kaufman said he hopes all students will see this as a call to support each other, even though the shooting happened elsewhere.
“Something terrible happens and you simply say, ‘Well, that wasn’t me, that happened in Pittsburgh,’ and you move on, then we’ve lost a great opportunity to better the world,” Kaufman said. “Whether it’s a vigil for Jewish students, an attack on Jewish students or any other marginalized group, our job as a community is to support each other.”
Since the vigil, Kaufman said he has had the opportunity to meet with several administrators. He said he feels proud to be a part of this community.
For students who are still healing, Cohen and Shoumer both said they hope students will reach out to the Jewish organizations in the community.
“I just want students to know, especially students in the Jewish community, that we’re here for them,” Cohen said.
“We are still here, we’re still strong and we support everyone,” Shoumer said. “The community always has your back.”
A few days later, on Thursday, Nov. 1, Cal Poly BSU held a vigil for Vickie Lee Jones and Maurice E. Stallard — victims of the Kroger shooting in Jeffersontown, Kentucky.
Fifty-one-year-old Gregory Bush walked into a supermarket on Wednesday, Oct. 24 and shot and killed Vickie Lee Jones and Maur ice E. Stallard. According to The New York Times, the gunman entered the supermarket in Louisville, Kentucky after unsuccessfully attempting to enter the First Baptist Church Jeffersontown, a predominantly-Black church.
Between 40 and 50 people gathered around a display of Jones’ and Stallard’s photographs surrounded by dozens of flowers and candles on the steps of the University Union Plaza. The vigil lasted 30 minutes and four students gave speeches, including BSU Vice President and mechanical engineering senior MartinaOdusanya.
“Since 2017, hate crimes have increased by 12.5 percent and of those thousands of hate crimes, 50 percent are targeted towards Black people,” Odusanya said during her speech. “Think about why that is, think about the history of how Black people are treated in the U.S. over time.”
Odusanya said lack of media coverage of the shooting exemplified the state of the nation.
“The media coverage of [the shooting] has been really ‘lax, which is concerning and problematic and worrisome that it just shows how much people are unwilling to take notice or willing to care about Black lives being lost,” Odusanya said in her speach. “That in itself is very telling of what this country represents with the people who are refusing to talk about it.”
Speaker and comparative ethnic studies junior Leilani Hemmings gave a call to action for everyone to engage in radical love and continue to fight, and to remember that “our lives matter, Black Lives Matter.”
“In our fight to liberate ourselves from the state of social, emotional, mental, physical and spiritual violence, we must engage in radical love with each other,” Hemmings said in her speech.
The vigil ended with a moment of silence and a call to remember the victims’ names.
“Sometimes it feels like hate wins and it can be a really isolating feeling and I feel like sometimes being around other people can be really helpful in times like this,” materials engineering freshman Clarissa Drouillard said. “Especially when it’s so important for us to just stick together. Change requires everyone.”