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International students and staff carry flags representing their countries during the Parade of Flags to open SIU International Festival Week on Monday morning in Carbondale.

CARBONDALE — Shortly before Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s annual Parade of Flags kicked off Monday, International Student Council President Ramesh Neupane gave some instructions to the dozens of students who stood waiting to carry the flags of their home countries across campus.

“Let’s stick together when we walk. We are one group!” he said, to applause and cheering.

The theme of this year’s International Festival, which runs through Feb. 10, is “Unity in Diversity.” Students from all corners of the world, some dressed in traditional attire, participated in the decades-old Parade of Flags tradition that began in Woody Hall and made its way across campus, ending finally in the Student Center's International Lounge.

Neupane, who is from Nepal, said that the multicultural festival was now more important than ever.

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International students and staff carry flags representing their countries during the Parade of Flags to open SIU International Festival Week on Monday morning in Carbondale.

“With the current situation going around with immigration, I believe showing positive messages and providing information about our culture and traditions will create unity among us,” Neupane said.

A group of community members, faculty and students walked alongside the flag-bearers in what they called a show of solidarity for Muslim and DACA students. Some carried signs with messages like “All students are welcome at SIU.”

Jyotsna Kapur, professor and chair of Cinema and Photography, co-organized the solidarity effort after hearing about President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban.

“This is what makes this a university — the meaning of the (word) ‘universe’-ity. Education is about opening minds and opening borders, and these kinds of borders have no place in education,” Kapur said.

Bachir Kane, in his second year at SIU, carried Senegal’s flag. He said the festival was a comforting reminder of humanity in uncertain times.

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International students and staff from Southern Illinois University carry flags representing their countries during the Parade of Flags to open International Festival Week on Monday morning in Carbondale.

“It helps. It helps to know there are people who care, people who still have that human side of them,” Kane said. “So that’s quite important. … I’ve been talking to people from other countries, and it makes you see that the world is just one place. It’s not like we’re alien to each other, but it’s just one place.”

Addressing the crowd in the International Lounge, Dr. Andrew Carver, interim director of the Center for International Education, said the event this year had taken on new meaning as a result of Trump’s executive order on immigration, which was temporarily suspended by a federal judge Friday.

“We recognize the hurdles you have overcome to study in the United States, and we are thankful that you have chosen SIU as your home while you study. Your ideas, your innovation, your diversity and your cultures bring the world to SIU and Carbondale,” Carver said.

Before signing the International Festival proclamation, Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell also referred to recent political news.

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SIU Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell hits a gong to open International Festival Week on Monday in Carbondale.

“We want you to come to SIU and feel a safe haven, we want you to feel welcomed and we want you to be able to learn. You came here to learn, and now that you’re here, we can learn from you. … You might think we don’t have a lot to celebrate, based upon some current events, but please know we’re better than that. We can do better. We must do better, and I’ll hope you’ll take today as a kickoff for a new day, a new page,” Colwell said.

This year’s International Food Fair will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday in the Student Center Ballrooms. Tickets are 50 cents each. The Cultural Show will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday in the Student Center ballrooms. The show is free. For more information about the International Festival's events, visit studentcenter.siu.edu/calendar.php.

janis.esch@thesouthern.com

618-351-5082

On Twitter: @janis_eschSI

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Janis Esch is a reporter covering higher education.

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