Nearly 2,000 students, staff and members of the public attended a candlelit vigil at the University to remember victims of the Paris and Beirut terror attacks on Sunday 15 November.
The event, firstly entitled ‘Vigil for Paris’ and later changed to ‘Vigil for Humanity’ to also recognise victims of the 12 November Beirut bombings, took place on the Great Hall piazza, illuminated by candles in a peace symbol.
Initially organised by student Lizzie Swyer, the event was also supported by committee members and individuals from French Society, Amnesty, Model UN and Student Action for Refugees (STAR), as well as Estate Patrol.
The President of French Society, who expressed her full condolences, made a brief opening speech, which was followed by words from French Students Amaury de Nanteuil and Francesco Papa Roche taken from ‘Message de notre jeunesse aux terroristes’ (Message from our youth to the terrorists).
Encouraging people not to live in fear, they said: “Cette lutte passe d’abord par la banalité de notre vie que nous devions préserver malgré les menaces.” (“This struggle begins with the banality and beauty of our lives, which we must preserve despite threats. To continue to live like before is to lead the fight.”)
After falling silent for one minute of respect, the crowd rose, joining together for a rendition of the French national anthem ‘La Marseillaise’, a moment described by one student as “incredibly moving”.
Further poems and speeches from students in both English and French filled the evening, including one from Yassine Ait Ali, a French Muslim student, who condemned the attacks.
Palestinian student Malaka Mohammed spoke of the violence in Gaza and reminded the thousands in attendance not to forget the 43 killed in Lebanon. “We are all involved in mankind… Let us work hard to end these atrocities. We can do this regardless of race, colour, religion, nationality or anything else. We can do it,” she said.
Laura-Jane Tiley, President of the Students’ Guild, commented: “The ‘Vigil for Humanity’ event is a testament to the strength of students’ empathy towards people affected by atrocities around the world. The victims of recent events remain in all our thoughts.”
Having taken place after Diwali celebrations in the Forum, a festival of light symbolising the triumph of good over evil, one student described the juxtaposition as “beautiful”, adding that they were “immensely proud” to be an Exeter student.
A University spokesperson said: “We were delighted to see more than 1,500 staff, students and members of the community come together for a ‘Vigil for Humanity’. The event demonstrated the heartfelt support and sympathy felt across Exeter for not only the people of Paris, but also those across the world who have suffered as a result of such atrocities.”
Following the tragic events of 13 November in Paris, the Modern Languages department reached out to students on their year abroad there, asking that they contact their personal tutors and the study abroad team as soon as possible. All are currently safe and well.
For those in need of emotional support either on campus or abroad, confidential nightline Voice offers a free Skype service (exetervoice). Students can also refer to the Wellbeing Information Directory on the Guild website.