College Students Show Solidarity with Muslims, Refugees

Jocelyn Thomas Around the Province

Students at Siena held a rally earlier this month in opposition to the travel ban (Photo courtesy of Dennis Bennett)

As people have done across the country, students on the campuses of Siena College and St. Bonaventure University have shown opposition to the travel ban that President Trump instituted in January preventing people from seven countries to enter the United States.

Earlier this month, groups gathered at both Province-sponsored colleges to show their support with those affected by the recent ruling. On Feb. 1, outside Albany, N.Y., Siena students organized a rally where participants showed support for their Muslim brothers and sisters by marching, as well as listening to speakers who shared their experiences of what it means to be Muslim, an immigrant, or a refugee.

“Students, faculty, administrators, and friars stood, chanted, and marched in solidarity together,” said George Camacho, OFM. “The sense of enthusiasm and unity was palpable. Young adults in our country have a right and a civic duty to peacefully, yet assertively advocate for social justice. What better environment to exercise this right than on a college campus rooted in the Catholic and Franciscan tradition? The presence of the friars was important because it demonstrated that we are more than just bystanders. We actively share in the mission of working toward a just and peaceable world.”

The event was organized by Siena’s Muslim Students Association, whose president, Bushra Asghar, said, “I was really amazed and surprised by the number of students and faculty that came out to show support. On a campus of only 3,000 students, around 300 came to listen to speeches and march with us in support of the anti-Muslim ban. As a Muslim myself, I felt that the environment formed by the rally brought about peace and acceptance for everyone no matter their religion, sexual orientation, and race. Living in a country where many of us are being targeted because of our religion, it was nice to see so much support and care from the small, close-knit community I live in. I am proud to go to a college that knows of my existence. All I can say is that no matter the hate being spread, do not forget there are many peaceful humans out there who respect and care for you no matter who you are. I am a proud Siena Saint.”

Bushra said the idea for organizing the rally began early that week. “On Monday morning when I got to campus, I talked to my advisor Christa Grant, who is director of the Damietta Center, and to Br. George about how the recent events happening in the country were having a toll on me, so Christa decided to get us together and she made a flyer. Then, the night before the rally, I got around 20 to 25 members of the Muslim Students Association to come together and make posters that people could carry throughout the event. Then, I worked on coming up with some chants and had Br. Dennis approve them. The next day, I printed them and handed them out before leading the chants during the march.”

“I was delighted to see so much community involvement as we stood in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters,” said Dennis Bennett, OFM. “In addition to more than 200 students, several faculty, staff members, administrators, and friars joined the rally and march across campus. These events help us come together as a community, get to know one another, and offer one another support.”

“In a time where division and fighting are all too common, it was an incredible sign of unity and Franciscan brother/sisterhood,” he added. “Even though there has been an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment, our Siena community stood with our Muslim, immigrant, and refugee brothers and sisters to remind them that: ‘We want you here. We appreciate you. We will stand with you.’ I was very proud to rally and march with the Siena community. I feel very proud to be a Siena Saint.”

Also at the rally were Brian Belanger, OFM, Daniel Nelson, OFM, and Michael Tyson, OFM.

Approximately 100 St. Bonaventure students, friars and administrators came together to show solidarity to those who feel marginalized by the travel ban. (Photo courtesy of Kyle Haden)

The following day in Western New York, students at St. Bonaventure gathered to also demonstrate their discomfort.

According to The Bona Venture, the university’s student newspaper, in the late morning, “around 100 members of the community gathered outside of Plassmann Hall to show their solidarity with Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – the seven nations banned from the United States.”

According to the story, “Michael Calabria, OFM, led those gathered at the event in a prayer, asking God to bring the world into a place where people of all ‘races, cultures and creeds live in mutual respect.’” Michael is director of SBU’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies.

On Feb. 2, the newspaper posted the article on its Facebook page with the caption, “Bonnies remembered Franciscan roots and spoke out against Trump’s ban this morning.”

“The students, faculty, friars and administrators, as well as members of the local community, held signs, sang and prayed as the snow fell Thursday morning outside Plassmann Hall on campus,” according to a story in the local newspaper, the Olean Times-Herald, titled “St. Bonaventure Students Show Solidarity in Light of Travel Ban.”

“The march was our expression on campus to show that we stand in solidarity with all peoples,” said Francis Di Spigno, OFM, SBU’s executive vice president of University Ministries. “I personally went because I wanted to show my support for all of our students on campus, and in particular, our minority students, who continually feel that they are threatened or under attack simply by not being a part of the majority.”

Francis added, “I think this march, along with those held throughout the United States and in other countries, were really an expression of the heightened anxiety that many feel, not just in response to this particular executive order, but to all of the divisive rhetoric that we heard during the campaign trail.”

Also present at the SBU event was Kyle Haden, OFM, who said: “I was very impressed and inspired by the passion that the students who organized the demonstration showed. It was a peaceful demonstration that focused the attention on the plight of the refugees and immigrants who had been unfairly targeted by the executive order. I believe that it is very important that we friars manifest our support for these types of demonstrations because of our call to witness to the Gospel of Jesus, especially when he tells his followers how they are to treat the strangers and the other among us, as stated in Matthew 25: 31-46. Michael Calabria offered a very powerful and poignant prayer for a changing of hearts in our nation. Overall, it was a demonstration that manifested the best in the Franciscan tradition, and I was proud of our St. Bonaventure students.”

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.

Related Links