At 12:30 p.m on Friday, Dec. 11, nearly 200 people from the Redlands community gathered on the steps of the university chapel, solemn but proud. After the shooting in San Bernardino on Dec. 2, where 14 people died and 22 were injured, the University of Redlands has been advocating for peace across all faiths and cultures.
The Middle Eastern Students Association (MESA) invited all University of Redlands students and community members to walk around the campus to take a stand against stereotypes associated with terrorist attacks, and to reinforce the idea of love, peace and unity across all religions.
“Every time there is a similar act of violence, we have come to expect backlash,” the Walk for Peace Facebook event page said. “In this case, there has been an inaccurate and harmful connection drawn between the attack last week and Islam. As the Middle Eastern Student Association, we find it necessary to be proactive in our response to this misrepresentation.”
Because the two shooters in San Bernardino were of Middle Eastern descent and were supporters of ISIS, the media has continued to raise questions about intention of Islam. Islamophobia has become a large topic of discussion on campus, especially as we, as a university, have been discussing the importance of diversity and inclusion.
“I think every single religion attempts to maintain peace,” said Arash Hafizi, University of Redlands junior and vice president of MESA. “No one is ever promoting violence and anyone who uses religion as an excuse to promote their violence simply is not an informed follower of said religion. Every religion states how it tries to promote peace and each one can be interpreted to condoning violence and attacks. It really depends on how a person wants to interpret the text and if they are using religion as their catalyst for violence they are not truly a part of that religion.”
University of Redlands chaplains John Walsh and Peter Tupou said that having a shooting so close to campus has allowed us to see the importance of making positive change. Moving forward, we need to be willing to engage with the other instead of fearing it.
“The moral principles and values contained in the teachings of the world’s great religions are vital factors for the lessening and ultimate elimination of greed, hatred, and injustice,” Walsh and Tupou agreed. “Bringing the spiritual dimension into the peacemaking process can create access to the more deep-seated base enabling us to examine critically our own attitudes and actions.”
Before the Walk for Peace, University of Redlands president Ralph Kuncl sent out an email about Islamophobia, encouraging university members to stay removed from stigmas and stereotypes, and instead promote peace and love in all walks of life. As these sentiments go hand in hand with MESA’s Walk for Peace, he encouraged the student body to attend the event.
“We believe it is especially important in this moment to combat fear and prejudice both within our University and wherever it may occur around us,” Kuncl’s email stated.
University of Redlands senior and MESA president Darya Farivar said that now is the perfect time for the university to take a stand against these racial stereotypes.
“We have been lucky enough be discussing racial relations on campus for a month now,” Farivar said. “Because of those brave individuals that thrust these issues into the limelight on our campus, the events of Dec. 2, 2015 have promoted even more discussion. If it weren’t for these difficult discussion that have already been happening, I’m sure the shooting would’ve caused much bigger problems facing the Muslim and Middle Eastern community on campus.”
Although the Walk for Peace allowed the community to come together and advocate for their beliefs, it also allowed people to hear and learn different people’s perspectives on the matter. Both before and after the walk, students, administrators and community members spoke to the crowd about how the shooting personally affected them, and how we can learn to move past stereotypes and be universally accepting.
“This walk brought students an opportunity to mourn lives that had been lost, and stand in solitude for those being discriminated against regardless of heritage or faith,” Farivar said. “But more than anything, I can only hope that this walk brought an opportunity for education.”
Hafizi echoed similar sentiments.
“[The Peace Walk] was an opportunity to show people how powerful a message of peace can be and that it’s a cause that everyone can get behind,” Hafizi said. “The amount of people there was overwhelming and I think that every student involved can be proud of showing up to support a cause of unity. I think it allowed them a look into the lives of people directly affected by the hatred and violence that stems from these attacks. It allowed them to see how many people cared and how their involvement really does make a positive change.”
[Image by Sky Ung, Redlands Bulldog photographer]