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Augustana students gather for Thursday night vigil
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Augustana students gather for Thursday night vigil

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Augustana students gather for Thursday night's "Vigil for Lost Lives"

Augustana students Jaidan Berry, left, a junior from Rockford, Illinois, stands with her friends Jameshia Walls, a junior from Rock Island, and Lilliana Andujar, a junior from St. Charles, Illinois, during Thursday night's "Vigil for Lost Lives" at Lindberg Stadium.

More than 240 Augustana students gathered Thursday night to remember and talk about continuing to improve upon race relations on campus and in the community.

The “Vigil for Lost Lives” included the reading of several names by speakers, followed by the crowd repeating the name, while the lights of Lindberg Stadium were turned off and candlelight lit the area.

The names included Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, among others.

Thursday's event was announced last week but came into more focus after the decision Wednesday by a Kentucky grand jury to bring no charges against Louisville police for Taylor's death. Prosecutors there have said this week that two officers who fired their weapons at Taylor were justified in using force to protect themselves after they faced gunfire from her boyfriend.

The only charges filed were three counts of wanton endangerment against fired Officer Brett Hankison for shooting into a home next to Taylor's with people inside.

Thursday night’s event was about two hours on the football field as students were grouped in 25-person boxes, easily designated thanks to some orange cones and the yard markings of the football field. It was estimated between 250 people to 300 people attended.

Social distancing occurred throughout the event, and there were portable hand-sanitizing stations on the field for those in the crowd. A number of student speakers addressed the crowd on a variety of issues, and the night, after the reading of the names, was kicked off by Dr. Monica Smith, Augustana’s vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion.

She discussed building upon a foundation already built by Augustana to further strengthen diversity, inclusion and equity.

“That vision is to be a campus community that reflects the diversity in the world and to be a campus where there’s a similar sense of belonging for all our students and staff,” she said.

Caleb Minnis was among the student speakers. He discussed how he encouraged his fellow students to consider the perspective of others and learn more about systemic issues.

“That’s what an ally does … they ask how they can support you,” he said.

A group of students organized Thursday’s event, including Brett Niederer, a senior volleyball player from Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Jake Washington, president of the Black Student Union.

“The students at Augustana want to give out a statement,” Niederer said in a news release about Thursday’s event. “This gives us all of us the opportunity to do that. We need to be an actual ally for people of color. We can speak up and help.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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