Around 50 Cornell students, each holding a miniature plastic candle, gathered in a dimly lit auditorium in Klarman Hall on Wednesday to watch performances by fellow students that highlighted their experiences as members of diverse communities.
Hosted by the Cornell Sikh Students Association, the “Candle Night Gathering for Storytelling and Solidarity” featured 12 different acts, many by members of various minority organizations on campus, including the Cornell Muslim Educational and Cultural Association, Black Students United and Cornell DREAM Team, among others.
The goal of the event, according to CSSA president Sukhmani Kaur ’21, was to “raise awareness about minorities’ issues” because it is “important that [their] stories are shared.”
The performances ranged from songs to spoken word poetry, and each show portrayed the challenges faced by members of minority communities in America today.
For example, La’Treil Allen ’22 performed his own rendition of Childish Gambino’s “This is America” in poem form, while Ru Ekanayake ’20 and Kimaya Raje ’20 performed a poem detailing their experiences as South Asian Americans in the United States.
Each performance was met with enthusiastic clapping and cheering, and afterwards Kaur encouraged the crowd to take two minutes to reflect upon what they had just seen.
When asked about what she hoped attendees would get out of coming to an event like this, Kaur explained that the storytelling aspect of the event is a necessary first step in combating hate and bringing communities together.
“I think that a lot of the time our stories are not represented in the mainstream, and, for the fourth year in a row, minorities have faced an increase in hate and discrimination,” she told The Sun.
“At that point, when that’s happening, and nobody’s listening to what you’re going through, and you’re not even able to reach each other … if we can hear each other’s stories and we know how to support each other, that’s the first step to solidarity and actually being able to push this forward,” she continued.
Kaur explained that the role of candles as an integral part of the night was linked to their usage as a “common form of protest used extensively in South Asia.”
“It creates a solidarity effect — it’s people all holding the same thing,” she said. “I think it makes a beautiful effect for people to come together in that way.”
To combat these issues, Kaur said that students need to be able to listen to each other and learn about the challenges facing their respective groups. That process, she said, starts with “understand[ing] what’s actually happening.”
“We can’t go through life pretending that Cornell is all that exists, because there’s a lot going on out there, that affects so many communities … I just don’t want to raise my kids in America where my son or daughter is bullied at school for wearing a turban,” she said.
Kaur noted that events like the Candle Night Gathering allow people to commit to “not just standing up when we’re facing injustice but when other people are too.”
“Until I understand what someone else is going through, I don’t know how to support them,” she said. “The storytelling aspect is the first step, and then the next is really coming out when people need you, when their voice is silenced, and not letting your voice be silenced.”
Kaur concluded by saying that “truly accepting and embracing” one’s own identity is part of the process.
“I think that is an act of political resistance in and of itself,” she said. “Especially when there’s an entire world out there who wants you to assimilate.”