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A line of dozens of students in front of the SLC holding signs reading "your silence is loud" and "52,800 dead"
Krishika Jethani/The Eyeopener
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TMSU organizes silent protest for earthquake victims in front of SLC

By Krishika Jethani

The Toronto Metropolitan Students’ Union (TMSU) held a silent protest outside the Sheldon and Tracy Levy Student Learning Centre (SLC) on March 7.   

The “Your Silence is Loud” protest lasted 29 minutes to mark the number of days since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake occurred on Feb. 6 in Türkiye and Syria.

Despite the cold and windy weather, protestors held up signs that read, “Your silence is loud” and “Help restore hope.”

The event was assembled “to condemn the authorities’ silence and lack of support for the victims,” according to an email sent to The Eyeopener by TMSU Faculty of Arts director Aya*.

“[We] demand accountability from those in power who have not taken action to provide aid and assistance to those affected by the earthquake,” said Aya. “The affected communities’ lives and well-being cannot be ignored.”

Aya, who is also a member of the TMSU’s equity committee, said she was feeling “hopeless” and wanted to dedicate her time to assisting those in need. 

She said she was upset by the lack of response from the school, especially for students who found it “tough” to communicate with their professors about their absence in classes.

 “I’m one of the lucky ones because my professors were very understanding…but for a university that prides itself on promoting diversity, they really failed to provide any support and action to care for its students,” said Aya.

Previously, The Eye reported that students felt uncomfortable with the fun stories posted on the school’s Instagram account on the day of the earthquake. International students at TMU also said they felt uncared for when the university sent an email with a list of copied and pasted links to resources that were not all updated.

Fourth-year social work student Busra Kotan also took part in the silent protest after feeling “disappointed” by the university’s approach.

“Some of us tried to reach out to mental health services and we didn’t get a response back and it’s been like a month and we still haven’t heard back,” said Kotan.

In an emailed statement to The Eye, the university said it reached out to students from both countries “to offer support.”

“We recognize how difficult these devastating circumstances must be for them and their loved ones,” Lachemi said in an emailed statement to The Eye. 

“Some of us tried to reach out to mental health services and we didn’t get a response”

In a TorontoMet Today press release, the university said the International Student Support (ISS) was offering support to students from Türkiye and Syria. Other students were encouraged to use the services at the Centre for Student Development and Counselling when needed. Faculty members were told to seek assistance from the employee and family assistance program

After 29 minutes of silent protest, Aya led the team of students toward Kerr Hall. As they made a loop through the quad, students kept their signs high to catch the attention of others. 

Second-year sociology student Simone Cellario also participated in the protest. They felt the silence was very “powerful” and “self-explanatory.” 

“Being silent … you have the time to think about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and how important it is,” they said.

Other students approached them to read the signs and learn more about the motives and issues.

“Someone even joined, they were just walking by outside the SLC and they asked us to get a sign and they joined for a few minutes,” said Cellario. 

“Being silent … you have time to think about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it”

Aya said she is satisfied she was able to put together the protest and bring light to the issue. 

“It’s worth something that somehow I was able to transform my pain and all the sorrows that I’ve been feeling from the past month into action, into something that could help my country, help the region somehow by even just raising awareness of the matter,” said Aya.

In an email sent to The Eye, Aya said students came together to raise $7,636.20 through fundraising efforts for the White Helmets, a volunteer organization to help those in need in Syria.

The TMSU stood outside the Student Campus Centre between Feb. 13 and Feb. 17 to collect food, clothing and monetary donations, according to the TMSU’s Instagram page.

Aya said after collecting donations, some volunteers shipped them to the countries impacted by the earthquake, in what was a community effort. 

She said some volunteers delivered these donations to the Mississauga Drives, organized by the Turkish Consulate, with warehouse drop-off points in Mississauga and North York. TMSU staff members also helped arrange a shipment to a warehouse in Montreal to be later sent to Syria.

“Somehow I was able to transform my pain and all the sorrows that I’ve been feeling”

“All these practicalities wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for everybody helping somehow,” said Aya. 

Cellario said they wish students could have some more guidance from the university when it comes to organizing donations and fundraising campaigns for important causes worldwide.

“Especially in such a diverse city where it’s full of international students, immigrant families and first generations, having a member of the university that would help logistically or by supporting you to create these kinds of initiatives would be very helpful,” they explained. 

*A previous version of this article included this source’s last name which has since been removed to protect their identity.

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