On a brisk Monday evening, students, faculty, staff and members of the greater Richmond community gathered in the University Forum as the light faded into dusk to honor victims of recent hate crimes nationwide.

Just a week after the Oct. 27 attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue and the Oct. 28 murders in Louisville, Kentucky, the university sought to address the grief and complex feelings many on campus were dealing with, University Chaplain Craig Kocher said. 

As people gathered in the forum, Kocher introduced the theme of the time together that evening: United in Love; Rooted in Hope. 

Kocher said that this message stressed the “U” and “R” within this concept, and how the roots and branches of the Tree of Life offered a glimpse of who we already are at our very best, and who we yet need to become. This was also a reference to a drawing of the Tree of Life and paid homage to the synagogue with that name that was the location of the Pittsburgh shooting. 

The idea behind the gathering was to offer some moment of beauty and hope in reflection of the recent massacres and conversations with students regarding them, Kocher said. He emphasized that the chaplaincy staff and others in the university also wanted to create a space to help acknowledge the hurting that many people are feeling around the world for a lot of different reasons at this time. 

Kocher's comments addressed the power that everyone has to say "I beg to differ” in the face of ugliness, horror, exclusion, dehumanization and violence, and to stand with those in the margins of society.

Josh Jeffreys, the Jewish chaplain and director of religious life, continued Kocher’s remarks in response to the violence toward Jews and other minorities. 

Jeffreys spoke passionately about the emphasis within the Torah to “love the stranger as thyself,” and urged that love must be shown for the most marginalized and oppressed in our communities, regardless of race, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality or creed. Jeffreys ended his remarks with a recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer for the deceased, in both Hebrew and English. 

In memory of each of the victims of the attacks, members of the UR community stepped forth to state their own names and light a candle in remembrance of each person lost. 

Benjamin Pomerantz, Shamim Ibrahim, Dean of Westhampton College Mia Reinoso Genoni, Dean of Richmond College Joseph Boehman, Sandeep Kumar, Martha Merritt, LaRee Sugg, Chris Selwood, Chantelle Bernard, Cory Schutter, Edward Gates, Cameron Keely-Parker and Lisa Miles each stepped forward. Each name spoken was honored with a declaration of “United in Love; Rooted in Hope” from the crowd.

In spite of winds coursing through the forum, members of the chaplaincy were able to keep the candles lit as President Ronald Crutcher spoke. He stepped forth as the final candle-lighter to honor all those who have been excluded or hurt simply because of who they are, in this community and beyond. 

Choeur du Roi, a co-ed student a cappella group, concluded these acts of memoriam with a performance of John Lennon’s “Imagine” as onlookers stood with lit candles.

The gathering ended with brief words from Waleed Ilyas, the Muslim chaplain, as well as Jamie Lynn Haskin, chaplain of spiritual life, Thomas M. Mullen, Catholic chaplain, and Bryn Bagby Taylor, associate university chaplain. The members of the group altered speaking roles as they delivered a joint send-off to emphasize the unity of the chaplaincy behind this issue, ending with a simple, unanimous choir of “United in Love; Rooted in Hope.”

As the gathering slowly disbanded, many tears were dried and hugs were exchanged. Sophomore Kelsey Pepin said that though the event had been emotional, she was encouraged by the unity she felt among those who attended to remain optimistic about future dynamics on campus after seeing the group support anyone and everyone who was impacted. 

Lisa Miles, the associate director of Common Ground and one of the candle-lighters, said she felt grateful to the chaplaincy staff for creating an event that reminded us there was power in coming together in the face of tragedy and focusing on hope.

Optimistically, Miles said that she left feeling lighter and more hopeful for the future because of the strength of our collective presence.

Undergraduate students received a letter via email later in the evening from Genoni and Boehman, which said that they were profoundly grateful to be part of such a powerful expression of community as an action after returning from the gathering.

The note also referenced recent campus speaker janaya khan’s message to not only stand alongside others but sit alongside them as well. Genoni and Boehman mentioned the vulnerability and fluidity of tackling the issues of discrimination and personal attacks that make UR question the kind of community it wants to be. 

They said that the answer was fundamentally, at least, well-defined.

“We remain dedicated to fostering a campus community that is safe and welcoming for people of all backgrounds, experiences, and identities,” Genoni and Boehman said in the email. 

They, too, concluded their message with a repetition of “We Are United in Love; Rooted in Hope,” and gave a reminder that they are welcoming of student conversation, as UR stands for “compassion, care, and love.”

Contact news writer Isabella Dumitrescu at isabella.dumitrescu@richmond.edu.