Students protest governor’s remarks about Syrian refugees

By Daniel Mahoney

Students gathered in the Student Union Thursday to protest comments made by Gov. Charlie Baker about accepting refugees. (Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)
Students gathered in the Student Union Thursday to protest comments made by Gov. Charlie Baker about accepting refugees. (Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

Dozens of students gathered in the lobby of the University of Massachusetts Student Union Thursday to oppose statements by Gov. Charlie Baker in mid-November that he would not accept Syrian refugees within the state.

Within a week of his initial comments, Baker clarified that Massachusetts was not, “out of the business of supporting refugee resettlement,” but that he still had serious reservations about the vetting process for refugees.

His clarification was not enough for most people.

The rally, which was organized by members of the International Socialist Organization and Students for Free Palestine, featured speakers from both organizations as well as the Student Government Association. All speakers spurned the governor’s comments while denouncing Islamophobia and other forms of racism, particularly against refugees.

Among those in attendance were various members of the SGA, MASSPIRG and other student interest groups. Students held signs that called for acceptance, a removal of borders and an end to hate. One sign read, “Will trade one Governor Baker for 10,000 refugees.”

Among the speakers was the rally’s organizer, Fermin Valle, a student and a member of the International Socialist Organization. Valle spoke about his experiences living as a Mexican immigrant on the South Side of Chicago, and related his experiences with the stigmatization of race to the struggles against institutionalized Islamophobia that exists in regard to refugees.

Valle also called for unity wherever “corporations and those in power seek to use Islamophobia to paint the oppressed as the enemy.”

While the other speakers offered calls for unity and solidarity, Tyler O’Day, an undergraduate senator, offered some action.

Following the failed passage of O’Day’s resolution, which publicly challenged the governor on behalf of the student body, O’Day announced that he would be reintroducing an amended resolution at the Monday’s SGA meeting. O’Day called for increased participation and attendance, saying that while the majority of the student body is in favor of the resolution, it has not shown its support in great enough force to pass the amendment.

The Coalition to End Rape Culture also spoke at the rally, calling attention to the high rate of sexually based crimes committed against refugees.

Colby Gavin, speaking on behalf of CERC, was clear about the conflict in Syria’s effects on sexually based crimes.

“It is a known fact that ISIS kidnaps, rapes and tortures those who are queer, trans and disabled, as well as women and children,” said Gavin, commenting on the daily life of those within Syria.

After the scheduled speakers the floor was opened to those in attendance. Student Jen Taylor gave an impassioned plea that denounced fear mongering and its effects.

Valle said although the rally was difficult to organize due to the time of year, he was pleased with the attendance.

“It is difficult returning from a holiday break and going into finals week,” said Valle, “but we were able to really get together and organize, and I think the high attendance reflected that.”

Daniel Mahoney can be reached at [email protected]