Prayer vigil promotes acceptance

Love is not exclusive to certain people is Gannon University’s Love Is For Everyone (LIFE) mission on campus. The university group, in collaboration with Active Minds, is holding The Prayer Vigil to End Hatred at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Mary, Seat of Wisdom Chapel.

Deacon Steve Washek, LIFE’s adviser and director of Campus Ministry, said the vigil started three years ago when a group of students on campus wanted to show its support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Around that time, a series of suicides in the LGBT community were being reported by the media, among these are those of Tyler Clementi and Matthew Shepard.

The prayer vigil focuses on issues like bullying and suicide occurring in the community. According to 2010 statistics published by the National Youth Association, 90 percent of gay students have experienced harassment at school.

The vigil will include representatives from different groups and organizations on campus and people from different backgrounds, Matt Kridel, president of LIFE, said.

“We think this is something that is relevant to every single person on Gannon’s campus so this year we made a push that all people at Gannon know how serious this is,” Kridel, who is a senior psychology major, said.

While Gannon is a Catholic campus, it’s ecumenical and inclusive of all faiths and religions. People from different cultures, religions and races are welcome to come to the vigil, Kridel said.

The vigil does not serve to change people’s minds about the issue, Washek said. He added that it reflects Gannon’s mission and helps its community experience a sense of belonging.

“We are all made in the image and likeness of God and we are to treat each other with respect and dignity, which is the first tenant of Catholic social teaching,” he said.  “Our goal is to make people aware that each person should be given the respect and the dignity to live their life without fear of hatred and rejection from their environment.”

The vigil will feature songs, scripture, poems and reflection, Washek said. It will also feature the mother of a high school student who committed suicide at Mercyhurst Preparatory school.

Washek said the vigil will also give people a chance to talk about how they contributed to the issue and how they were affected by it utilizing candles.

“We call this the ‘illumination of light’ experience,” he said. “Statements will be read and people will be invited to come forward and light a candle if they’ve ever contributed to that hatred, like hearing a joke against LGBT and not doing anything about it.”

The vigil also serves to build a bridge between the gay and straight community at Gannon.

“If I was somebody who identified myself as a gay or a lesbian, then there is something that I need to get rid of in myself against those who identified themselves as straight,” Washek said, “and there are things from the straight community that we need to get rid of to build that bridge.”

Jenna Dunning, president of Active Minds, said the vigil helps people face topics they don’t normally discuss.

“Bullying and suicide is often a conversation we don’t want to have,” she said, “and I think the only way to prevent it is by talking about it.”

Dunning, who is a senior psychology major, said suicide is 100 percent preventable, but only if the community is aware of not just its causes but its symptoms as well.

These symptoms include people withdrawing from activities they used to take pleasure in or expressing a desire to do so to at least one friend or a family member. Another common and serious symptom, Dunning said, is a sudden change from a depressed to a relaxed state in the person.

“It might look like they’re better but what they’re experiencing is a sense of control on the issue and they’re probably going to follow through on it,” she said.

Dunning and Kridel are both part of the Erie Suicide Task Force, which addresses the issue.

“In the first meeting we went to, they talked about how it’s almost impossible to get into schools to talk about suicide awareness unless a suicide has happened there,” she said. “And Matt and I were upset because the best way to prevent it is to talk about it and we don’t want to talk about it after it happens but try to prevent it before-hand.”

Kridel said the purpose of the vigil is to establish a safe environment for people on campus.

“The point of the group is to let everyone at Gannon feel loved and welcome and to break the barriers that exist around LGBT people to make people understand that it’s normal and it’s part of who people are,” he said.




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