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Vassar Students March To Support Refugees

Several hundred people marched in downtown Poughkeepsie Feb. 1 in support of refugees, immigrants, and other vulnerable people in the community and the world, and Vassar played a major role in the peaceful, orderly event. Carrying signs with pro-immigration messages and chanting, “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here,” about 100 Vassar students took part in the rally on the steps of the Poughkeepsie Post Office.

The march came four days after the President signed an executive order banning refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries and suspending the bulk of the country’s refugee effort.

Sophie Friedfeld-Gebaide, president of Vassar College Democrats, was gratified by the turnout for the march, not only from her fellow students but also from the community at large. “This march reminded me why I chose Vassar College; the community values people of all races, religions and ethnicities,” Friedfeld-Gebaide says. “But the march also made me proud to be an American. Vassar students are normally the ones protesting and creating a racket, but tonight, the people of Poughkeepsie outnumbered us by at least three to one. This demonstrates how many Americans oppose this ban.”

“This march reminded me why I chose Vassar College; the community values people of all races, religions and ethnicities. But the march also made me proud to be an American.”

The rally was sponsored by local religious organizations and by the Mid-Hudson Refugee Solidarity Alliance, a group representing six local colleges that originated at Vassar. History Prof. Maria Höhn, a founder of Vassar Refugee Solidarity, was one of the speakers at the hour-long event. “We are here to express our support for refugees, reject Islamaphobia and stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters,” Hôhn says. “I’m delighted to see all these people—this incredible display of what makes America great.”

Sam Speers, Vassar’s Director of Religious and Spiritual Life, joined with three Vassar students—Kamakshi Kanojia, Zane Diamond, and Patrick DeYoung—to lead a responsive reading affirming support for refugees.

As the march began, DeYoung, who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army, said he was outraged that some of those banned from entering the country as a result of the executive order were men and women who had helped American soldiers on the battlefield. “Some of these people acted as our guides and interpreters,” DeYoung says. “We considered them part of our unit; we relied on them and some gave their lives for us. To deny them entry to this country is atrocious and obscene, and today I’m marching for them.”

As they boarded buses and headed back to campus after the rally, some students said they were energized to continue to be involved in supporting the refugees. “I’ve never been a part of something like this before, and I intend to remain active,” says William Kyle ’19.

Ayela Faruqui ’19, of Karachi, Pakistan, agreed. “What I experienced tonight was people with passion—it was emotionally intense,” Faruqui says, adding she was pleased to see so many protests erupting throughout the country since the refugee ban was announced. “I am more optimistic now that things can change. I plan to stay engaged with VC Solidarity and I will talk about this experience when I go home to Pakistan.”