A Mensch's Guide to Campus Activism


College students across the country take a stand on Darfur

 Lauren Levy 
By Lauren Levy

While American students go about their lives, alarming numbers of Africans are murdered one by one.

The phrase “Never Again” resonates in many Jews’ minds as a new generation falls victim to genocide. College students across the nation are joining the effort to stop the Sudan government from killing thousands of innocent civilians in Darfur.

“I think it has become our generation’s Vietnam,” said Northwestern junior Alyssa Urish. “Darfur is very far away but also close to home. We have to do something about it because we can’t just stand around and not do anything.”

Emma Kornfeld, a junior at Washington University in St. Louis, joined the Darfur Action Coalition (DAC) on her campus in the second semester of her sophomore year. She said that students should take issue with what they care about.

“It’s a tragedy that it’s even taking place,” Kornfeld said. “Obviously I personally can’t end the genocide, but there is an avenue in which I can aid the crisis, and that’s why I’m involved.”

 Sam Schiller-MG 
Northwestern University student Sam Schiller protests the genocide in Darfur.

The DAC is under the umbrella of Students Taking Action Now Darfur, or STAND. According to the STAND Web site, more than 600 college, university and high school chapters have started across the U.S. and around the world. A small group of students at Georgetown University started the first one. One of the students was Ben Bixby, who was also the president of Georgetown’s Jewish Students Association.

Bixby said he realized that if students from all over the country joined STAND, it would be more effective. Eventually, chapters formed at other schools, he said.

“Jewish student associations and Hillels played a large part in STAND not because we [as Jews] are better or more attentive, but many Jewish students have the direct family connection to previous genocides,” Bixby said. “The Jewish students intuitively knew they had to do something, certainly from the very beginning.”

Some Jews might not protest the occurrences in Darfur because it doesn’t involve Jewish people, Urish said. However, she added that it is every Jew’s responsibility to care for humanity and to make the world better for future generations.

“There is so much poverty around us, but there is a difference between poverty and people being systematically killed by their government,” Urish said. “I believe everyone has a right to not fear their government, and it makes me so sad that these people have to flee their homes and are forced to run away.”

Bixby said that after growing up with a Holocaust education, it was easy for him to make the connection to the victims in Darfur who were killed just for being who they are.

“Individuals are targeted, abused and murdered for no other reason,” Bixby said. “It relates to one of the most astounding things about the Holocaust, and that was how little the world did. Everybody knew for years what was happening to the Jews in Germany and Europe.”

Kornfeld said she is involved with the effort because she believes that it pertains to her Judaism and to her humanity. The phrase “Never Again,” which originated from the Holocaust, is just a mantra until people start acting on it, she said.

“Through Darfur, how will history judge us?” Kornfeld asked. “How will my children and my children’s children judge me? My grandchildren will be learning about this genocide for years and they’ll ask me, ‘What were you doing about it?’ and ‘Did you care?’”

Northwestern junior Sam Schiller is active in the Northwestern University Darfur Action Coalition (NUDAC). He aid that the genocide affects him because as a Jew, the terrors of genocide have been ingrained in him from a young age.

“I think that as the world expands, the failure of our world to prevent harm shouldn’t be taken lightly,” Schiller said. “We live in a very cynical world, but we can win even the biggest battles.”

Schiller said that for him, Judaism is a rich language of social justice issues and understanding, welcoming the stranger and tikkun olam – repairing the world.

“The core values of Judaism like reaching out to those that aren’t directly connected to us and seeing how we could help them, that is a dialogue we can use,” Schiller said.

As part of DAC, Kornfeld participated in the paper plate campaign in which students wrote letters on plates voicing their opinions to their senators.

“During the 1960s in America there existed an ‘I could change the world’ mentality, and I feel like that attitude is not necessarily as ubiqutous as it was back then when people don’t necessarily identify with how they can reach tangible change,” Kornfeld said. “However, one student can gather with other students and change things…If you can’t solve the overwhelming problem, you can help the symptoms.”

At Northwestern, Urish signed petitions, gave money to the cause and participated in the Chicago rally, she said.

“I’ve been to Chicago before, but to see a huge student body come together with such passion for a cause while yelling and screaming, it was just very powerful for me to know what we were doing,” Urish said.

When Bixby and his peers started STAND in 2004, they imagined it would only last six months because they thought the violence would eventually stop, he said. Although Bixby is disappointed that STAND still needs to exist, he is proud that STAND continues to be loud about Darfur.

“In 2004, only a small group of people could probably point to Darfur on the map, but that’s not the case anymore,” Bixby said. “If genocide continues to take place in Sudan and these people are not vanishing quietly into the night, we are making sure that people hear about it.”

As for students who are interested in being activists for Darfur on their campuses, Schiller suggests that they look for non-traditional ways to make people aware of the issue.

“Your creativity is open and there are so many different avenues to take,” Schiller said. “You shouldn’t limit yourself to the kind of person you see yourself as … The opportunities are endless.”

Posted: 10/22/2007 08:51:35 AM

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