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Georgian Court Students Remember Soldier Vanessa Guillen

GCU community members at Vanessa Guillen vigil

Nursing major Yasmin Amaro-Garcia ‘21 wasn’t just saddened when she heard about slain U.S. Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén, the 20-year-old from Fort Hood, Texas, whose family believes she was sexually harassed before disappearing earlier this year.

Yasmin wanted to do something about it. 

Yasmin Amaro-Garcia at vigil
Yasmin Amaro-Garcia ‘21

“As I would watch the news, I felt that her voice had not been heard, but that mine, along with many others, would be,” said Yasmin, who is pursuing a minor in social work. 

“Childhood friends from the local Latinx community and I got together to start planning a vigil in her honor, and as a result we created our organization, Jóvenes Con Voces.”

And that is how a small but vocal group of residents came to gather at a public pavilion one recent evening in downtown Lakewood, just a few blocks from Georgian Court’s main campus. For nearly two hours, they joined Yasmin and members of Jóvenes Con Voces to remember Guillén. GCU’s Council for Diversity members also attended the event and shared the vigil on Facebook.

Here, Yasmin shares her perspective on the importance of the moment and being part of an ongoing social justice movement. 

“As a Mexican-American first generation college student, I felt compelled to create and be part of something that selflessly amplifies the voice of the Latinx community. The nation is currently experiencing trying times amidst a pandemic, since all we can really do is stay home and watch the news as we monitor the progression of COVID-19. However, as we attempt to stay informed on current health updates, there are also events being broadcast that are just as important, and one of those was the death of Mexican-American Army soldier, Vanessa Guillén. Her death was a tragic event that shook the Latinx community to the core since it was not the first time that our community faced an injustice. She was only 20 years old, serving our nation in the name of justice. 

“Jóvenes Con Voces started seeking volunteers to donate their time to provide services for the vigil, and current GCU student Jessica Harilal, as well as GCU alumna Elizabeth “Lily” Antonowicz, were more than happy to help. 

“At the vigil, we all gave our speeches, and as Lily sang beautifully, we were moved to tears because we all identified with Vanessa Guillén. Every member of the Latinx community identifies with her pain, the injustice, and her drive to serve a nation that is supposed to protect us; most importantly we identify with her because that could have been any one of us. You are Vanessa Guillén, I am Vanessa Guillén, and we are all Vanessa Guillén.”

Lily Antonowicz at vigil
Lily Antonowicz ’20

Photos by Jessica Harilal ’23, a health information management major

Aerial view of GCU.

About Georgian Court University

Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. GCU is a comprehensive, coeducational university with a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women. As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 2,100 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 15 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates also make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings. The main campus is located in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students at other locations, such as GCU at BrookdaleGCU at Rowan College of South Jersey–Cumberland Campus, and through multiple online certificate and degree programs.