Students shed some light on Darfur

Kathryn Nelson

Students gathered on the grassy knoll of Northrop Mall on Thursday evening to light candles in remembrance of those who have died in the genocide in Darfur.

Speaking in a circle of about 60 students, sociology and global studies senior Mack Mulbah said, “What I get from here today is that we are committing ourselves to something. And that something is peace in the world.”

Mulbah said holding the vigil reminded him that students can do a lot more.

Since the conflict in Darfur began in 2003, there has been a growing student movement on campus to bring awareness to the violence.

Vice president of the African Student Association Caimon Kollie doesn’t think of the genocide in Darfur as a distant problem. Born in Liberia, he lived as a refugee in Sierra Leone for eight years and said listening to gunshots nearby was a frequent occurence.

“I can just imagine what the people of Darfur are going through,” he said. “That’s what makes it more of a concern for me.”

Now a sociology and history senior, Kollie helped to coordinate the candlelight vigil for Darfur.

According to the United Nations, more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2 million displaced in Darfur.

As the killing continues in the region, a growing number of students are attempting to halt the flow of money to the Sudanese government, which is said to fuel the conflict.

ASA and other collaborating student groups are calling for a more critical analysis of the University’s financial ties that may be indirectly contributing to the genocide.

The Social Concerns Committee drafted a position statement on Sudan that will go before the University Senate on April 5.

The resolution states the University should avoid indirectly perpetuating the cycle of violence in the region, by shunning any future investments in financial endeavors that might support the Sudanese government.

It must pass by more than 50 percent of the Senate before it is presented before the Board of Regents.

Petitions drafted by various student groups circled the rally. About 75 students signed ASA’s petition calling for divestment, according to Brenda Senyana, a psychology senior and ASA president.

“The idea today is for you to support the divestment program,” Kollie said at the vigil. “This rally is about action and also about mobilization.”

The petition will be sent to University officials and state and federal government officials after getting more signatures, she said.

Mani Subramani, University professor and chair of the Social Concerns Committee, said the committee recommends the University ask financial managers not to make any future investments in companies considered “egregious offenders.”

“We’re hoping that we can be a part of the solution in at least expressing our disapproval through our financial investment to companies that have some sort of exposure to Sudan,” he said.

The University’s Chief Investment Officer Stuart Manson said the University is invested in a mutual fund managed by Trust Company of the West, which has money in a “small bank in Sudan.” However, Manson said that the University can’t divest money from the fund because it is frozen by the federal government.

Manson said that it is the only “offending fund” the University is indirectly invested in on a list of companies egregiously contributing to the Sudanese government. According to Manson, the list – drafted by the Sudan Divestment Task Force -includes approximately 30 companies.

The University has no direct investments in any of the companies on the list, he added.

“We’re in complete agreement with (the Social Concerns Committee) in that the rationale behind this is a good one,” Manson said. “The resolution basically puts the University on record as being appalled by the atrocities in Darfur.”

Earlier this week, the University’s Student Anti-Genocide Coalition wrapped green ribbons on the Washington Avenue Bridge as a symbol for the victims in Darfur.

There have been few improvements in Darfur in recent weeks. Thursday, the Sudanese government agreed to allow a U.N.-African Union force into the southern Darfur region, which is roughly the size of France, according to Rueters.

Still, more than 4 million people are depending on outside aid to survive, a situation the United Nations calls “the biggest humanitarian drama of our time.”