As Century Tower’s bells echoed across the crowded Turlington Plaza on Monday, four students collapsed to the ground.
They laid with makeup wounds painted on their faces and arms, their hands clutched around their throats. Other students stood over them with signs declaring “Your silence is deadly” and “Free Syria.”
It was part of a die-in put on by Students Organize for Syria to raise awareness about the ongoing Syrian humanitarian crisis, the result of a years-long civil war in the Middle Eastern country.
Hassan Syed, the organization’s vice president, said the event had been planned before the recent chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians and a retaliatory U.S. missile strike, but after hearing the news they realized it was time to put their plan into motion.
On Thursday, the U.S. launched 59 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian government air base in response to the April 4 chemical attacks, which killed dozens of Syrian citizens, according to the Associated Press.
President Donald Trump, however, has proposed indefinitely halting the country’s intake of Syrian refugees.
The UF group wanted to make people question the ongoing conflict in Syria.
“Innocent children, innocent women, innocent men, they’re all dying because of the chemical gas,” said Syed, a 17-year-old UF microbiology freshman. “Maybe one day something like (the die-in) will give someone, even one person out there, a better idea of what’s going on.”
Though Syed said he isn’t from Syria, he’s passionate about the issue, and it hurts him to know others are unaware of the conflict.
“What’s even worse is when people know what’s going on, but then they refuse to acknowledge it or refuse to think of it as a big deal,” he said.
Rama Hussein, who participated in the die-in, said she can vividly imagine the location of each attack in Syria. Hussein is Syrian, and she said the best summers of her life were her childhood visits to the country.
Though her aunts, uncles and cousins still live in Damascus, Hussein said she hasn’t returned to Syria since 2011. She’s angry that the international community has let the situation continue and hopes more people spread the word about the ongoing conflict.
“If more people just share it on social media, the stuff they see, I think it would spread the word even more,” she said.
As he walked through Turlington, Jordi Zapata stopped to take a photo of the students on the ground. Zapata, an 18-year-old UF biology freshman, said he knew Syrian refugees from his high school near Clearwater, Florida.
Meeting them gave him a new perspective on what others endure, he said.
“Their sense of home is different than ours,” he said. “And to see their connection to home get ruined, I can’t even imagine what it’d be like.”
Contact Romy Ellenbogen at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter at @romyellenbogen
Rama Hussein, 21, a UF biology junior, holds a sign that reads "Your Silence is Deadly" while members of Students Organize for Syria demonstrated a die-in.