By Aaron Desatnik
Students can. Students stand. Students unite.
This was the message of more than 400 students from 92 campuses who gathered in Washington, DC, earlier this month for "A Call to Action for Darfur: National Student Leadership Conference," sponsored by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council's Committee on Conscience. The conference aimed to educate, generate ideas and encourage students to network to assist the persecuted people in the Darfur region of Sudan.
During the conference, students heard from internationally recognized human rights advocates and survivors of violence. Francis Bok gave a chilling account of his flee from death in Darfur during his early childhood. General Romeo Dallaire provided an authentic report of his experience in "Shaking Hands with the Devil." With a mere 500 UN troops and the ignorance of the free world, Dallaire helplessly witnessed genocide unfold as more than 800,000 people were murdered in a period of 10 weeks in Rwanda. The speakers addressed the immediacy of media attention, pressure for political action, financial support for refugees, education and public awareness about the genocide in Darfur. There was no doubt that students are the foundation for this comprehensive effort.
Throughout the year, college campuses have been one of the main voices of action on Darfur, with the driving force from a student group at Georgetown University called Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND). Since then, numerous groups have commenced on campuses, initiating activism through petitions, demonstrations, rallies, and fundraising campaigns. The Committee on Conscience has initiated "A Minute for Darfur," while MTVu has established a daylong televised documentary about the situation in Darfur. Students at Swarthmore College have established a Genocide Intervention Fund, and students at Wesleyan College have produced an album titled "ASAP: The Afrobeat Sudan Aid Project" to benefit refugees.
Hillel delegates from the University of Cincinnati are bringing the fight back to campus as well. In the upcoming weeks, we plan to present the film "Lost Boys of Sudan" to campus, along with a refugee from Sudan, James Malou, who fled to the United States in 2001. We are also organizing support on campus to start a STAND chapter at the University of Cincinnati.
Everyone involved in this issue agrees that the way to achieve peace in Darfur and in Africa is through the unity of college students. During one of the final sessions of the conference, a group of students developed a proposal to lay the foundation of a common strategy for students. Ultimately, our goal is to initiate better lives for the people of Darfur. The stronger the alliance, the more affective we can be.
Aaron Desatnik is a student at the University of Cincinnati.