The Collegian
Tuesday, December 01, 2020

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Exhibit commemorates fallen soldiers, civilians from war

As the sun began to set on the University of Richmond, candles flickered against the shadows of dusty combat boots lined in rows across the Forum. The boots of soldiers were intermingled with the shoes of Afghani civilians who, like the fallen soldiers, have perished in the war in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Sept. 21, five members of Women in Women and Learning, in coordination with The Richmond Peace Education Center, showcased the "Eyes Wide Open Virginia: The Human Cost of the War in Afghanistan" exhibit on the Forum. The exhibit displayed 38 combat boots and 25 regular shoes. The combat boots represent the 38 Virginia residents who have died thus far during the war in Afghanistan. The regular shoes represent a small portion of the thousands of Afghani civilians who have lost their lives since the war began in 2001.

Sophomore Carmen Wicker, is one of the five WILL members that helped bring the EWO exhibit to campus. Wicker said the purpose of the exhibit was to reflect on human life and the cost of war.

"This is not a protest," she said. It is important to stress that human life is human life, regardless of where you're from, Wicker said. This is why the display shows civilian shoes as well as those of the fallen soldiers.

The five young women involved in bringing EWO to campus found out about the national exhibit by speaking with executive director Adria Scharf of The Richmond Peace Education Center. The young women worked closely with the RPEC in premiering the Afghanistan exhibit in Virginia. The American Friends Service Community provided all of the shoes for the program.

"The reaction we've been getting from people has been generally positive," WILL member and EWO coordinator Spach Trahan, a senior, said. Many of the people who came were deeply saddened by what they saw, she said. The exhibit seemed to hit home for some. "We needed to have a physical representation of what is happening there. People definitely got emotional," WILL member and fellow EWO coordinator Paige Andrade, sophomore, said.

"This exhibit is important because the war in Afghanistan has been so far removed. This war is unlike the war in Vietnam where everyone knew someone who was there," Trahan said. This is an opportunity for people to fully conceptualize the war in Afghanistan, and how it directly affects our country and its people, she said.

"This visual representation has attracted so many passers-by," WILL member and EWO coordinator Delia Flanagan said. "Even when people just stop to ask what we were doing, we are getting our message across," she said. The fact that the exhibit premiered on the UN's International Day of Peace only added to the significance of the project, Flanagan said.

According to the posters present at the EWO exhibit, studies estimate that at least 699 civilians were killed in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2007. There have been approximately 6,202 to 7,607 Afghani civilian casualties since 2001.

According to those same posters, since the start of the war on October 7, 2001, the U.S. casualties have escalated each year -- from 12 casualties in 2001 to 155 U.S. deaths in 2008.

The EWO pro-peace rally lasted long after the sun had finally set. The candles burned bright, illuminating the names of those who have died in the name of freedom.

Contact staff writer Liz Monahan at liz.monahan@richmond.edu

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