Student Groups Focus on Darfur Crisis

Several CMC student groups are leading local action to raise awareness of an ongoing crisis in Darfur, a western region of Sudan.

Inspired by news accounts of Darfur’s loss of life and livelihood, as well as last spring’s Athenaeum visit from Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at the University of Judaism, CMC Students for Peace and Justice has worked on the cause for months, raising money and awareness for Sudan by selling T-shirts on campus.

Proceeds benefit the International Rescue Committee, a U.K.-based organization that provides medicine, food, water, and sanitation to Sudanese refugees in Chad, says student Keara Duggan ’05. More than $1,300 has been raised thus far, she says. (T-shirts may be purchased through Duggan, kduggan05@mckenna.edu, or after Peace and Justice meetings, held Wednesdays at 10 p.m. in Phillips Lounge.)

Beyond T-shirts, Duggan says Peace and Justice members have provided materials at campus events, so that students may write to the local media. About 15 letters urging continued coverage of the Sudan have been sent to the Los Angeles Times, she says. Other 5-C groups, such as Challah for Hunger, Amnesty International, and the Women’s Union at Pomona College, also are working on this issue, Duggan says, and have talked of collaborating on an information session/speaker panel on the genocide in spring.

In addition, students Colin Hunter ’05, Danny Cahir ’05, Eric Brinkert ’05, Robert Carpenter ’06, and Joanna Repsold ’07 have formed a student committee, Students Against Genocide, to rally against what they fear may become another Rwanda if policy makers aren’t pressured to follow through with assistance to the embattled Darfur region. In many ways, “What happened in Rwanda in 1994 is happening in the Sudan,” says Hunter, a PPE major who spent the summer of 2003 in Rwanda as an intern for a British organization committed to preventing genocide.

The idea for Students Against Genocide (SAG), supported by the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights at CMC, grew out of conversations with the Center’s acting director Edward Haley, the W.M. Keck Professor of International Strategic Studies.

Says Hunter, “We all agreed that something needed to be done about Darfur.”

Foremost is educating others about the genocide and encouraging U.S. leaders to take appropriate action to stop it. With support from the Center, students have already scheduled a trip to Washington, D.C., during the winter break. “We hope to meet with a variety of people: legislators, foreign-service officers, and experts in the fields of genocide and human rights,” Hunter says. A meeting with Jerry Fowler, director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience, is included in the agenda for the Jan. 10-15 visit as well, he said.

“The initiative of CMC’s Students Against Genocide challenges us all to be morally active in opposing human suffering,” Haley says. ” It is a reminder of what it means to be human. Supporting the students’ efforts to bring their well-researched brief on the situation in Sudan to the attention of lawmakers in Washington and other student and community groups around the country certainly fits the mission of the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights.

“I’m grateful to the students for giving the Center an opportunity to help,” he says.

As part of its rollout, SAG has already met two of three intermediate objectives: the launch of a Web site (www.studentsagainstgenocide.org), and the release of a collaborative white paper about the genocide in Darfur. (Full text: www.studentsagainstgenocide.org/research/darfur.pdf.) A third intermediate goal is to position opinion pieces in local and national newspapers.

The committee also plans to reach out to college campuses across the country to raise awareness of and encourage action on this and other genocides.

“Right now it’s really important that we make our actions match our words,” Hunter says. ” Genocide’ can be an abstract term. The experience I had in Rwanda made genocide personal, as it should be. We’re talking about the murders and rapes of thousands of people.”

“The basic underlying principle guiding this drive right now,” says SAG member Eric Brinkert, “is that I don’t feel like we, as a global society, are living up to the credo we have adopted following the Holocaust, the most heinous genocide of our time. This credo simply states, Never Again.’

“In the 60 years since the Holocaust,” Brinkert says, “we have seen multiple genocides occur–in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and now in the Sudan, to name a few. I am therefore committed to focus my attention, here as a student as well as a professional, to advocating and advancing human rights and genocide prevention.”

SAG member Joanna Repsold agrees. “By getting involved in humanitarian efforts, I am putting action to my words. I may not bring worldwide relief or end genocide, but I am doing all that I can, and that is what is important.”

Hunter says that educating others about Darfur is the first step toward ending the conflict there.

“The more you learn about these and other conflicts,” he says, “the more you feel compelled to do something about it: to find out who’s involved, who’s affected, and what the consequences may be if we fail to act.”