For lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, as well as Latinx students, the anguish that accompanied news of a massacre at an Orlando gay nightclub this week was especially pronounced. But on Wednesday night, Columbia's campus served as a place of sanctuary and community for the nearly 150 students, faculty, and staff who gathered to mourn the victims of the attack.
The vigil, organized by the Office of University Life, began at 6 p.m. in front of Low Library with remarks from Executive Vice President for Student Life Suzanne Goldberg. Most of the attendees crowded into the shade of Dodge Hall as Goldberg described the proximity of the shooting to Columbia's community. Behind her, rainbow lights were projected onto the columns of Low Library.
"I've spoken with students and with staff who knew Pulse well, including someone who was there just last weekend. For many others, the attack also feels deeply personal, directly threatening, and immediately painful, including so many of our Latino and LGBTQ students on campus," Goldberg, who fought for LGBTQ and immigration rights as an attorney, said.
Unlike the vigil held outside the Stonewall Inn on Monday night, where speakers like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo called for gun reform, Goldberg avoided mentioning specific political causes related to the attack. She did, however, acknowledge racist remarks and threats made against Muslims across the nation in the past week.
"For many members of the Muslim community at Columbia, the attack feels directly and personally threatening," Goldberg said. "Even as we stand here, the invective and nastiness that is swarming on social media and in presidential politics today is a direct threat."
Assistant Director of Multicultural Affairs and LGBTQ Outreach Chris Woods and newly-hired Associate Vice President for Student Life Ixchel Rosal then read the names of the 49 victims, and each gave statements expressing grief and outrage as well as support for students.
"This act of violence has hit all too close-to-home," Woods said. "No matter what your proximity to this event or these people are, we see you, we hear you, and we are with you. I see, hear, and feel every ounce of pain, anger, sadness, rage, fear, resistance, frustration, love. All of those feelings are valid and important in this time."
At the close of the vigil, those in attendance turned to each other to light candles as piano music played from loudspeakers over Low steps. Many embraced or wiped away tears, and the crowd stood in silence for several minutes until the music stopped.
Four clinicians from Counseling and Psychological Services as well as four religious life advisers from the Office of the University Chaplain were present at the vigil and stood on Low Plaza afterwards to provide support to students.
Miguel Tapia Colin, CC '19, attended the Stonewall Inn vigil on Monday, but said he was drawn to the ceremony on campus, compelled by a sense of closeness to Columbia.
"I felt a lot of love and power there, but I felt like being in another community that's my community, the Columbia community, has been very helpful," Colin said.
He added that, though he was personally shaken by the violence in Orlando, he plans to celebrate New York Pride in the coming week.
"The attack was obviously on the LGBT+ community, but I think what a lot of people fail to talk about, especially the media, is that it was an attack on the Latinx community. I belong to both. That could have been me, it could have been New York City," Colin said. "But I thought to myself, this person that perpetrated the attacks, why allow him to win? Why live in fear?"