Saving Sudan: Standing in solidarity



Kendra Davis

For years, older generations have been commenting on how lackluster today’s youth is — how we don’t seem to care about pertinent global and local issues as much as they did in such decades as the “Turbulent ’60s.” It’s true that we don’t make angry picket signs in our spare time and that the most talked-about rally of late was hosted by two comedians.

But Villanova’s involvement in raising awareness about Sudan’s upcoming referendum is proof that we haven’t lost touch with issues occurring over 6,000 miles away from campus. And Villanova isn’t the only one participating. Individual actors, other academic institutions and the United States government have been collaborating for months to ensure that the historical event to take place 30 days from now does not end in another war.

For three of the Tuesdays in November, members of the University’s chapter of STAND, the student-led division of Genocide Intervention Network, took photos at the Oreo of passersby holding up a sign that reads, “I STAND with Sudan” and handed out sheets of information explaining the issue.

“Letting people know these things are happening is key,” says senior Alex Frantz, who has been a member of STAND since her sophomore year and is now the club’s president. “At this age we have a lot more time to care about these things. Human rights violations are something that I don’t think Villanova students want to tolerate in the world they live in.”

Yet the goal of the photo campaign is not solely to educate the student body about the upcoming referendum.

A group of students in Professor Suzanne Toton’s Global Poverty and Justice Class are taking it one step further. They will send all of the 150-plus pictures, along with a letter, to Obama, encouraging him to continue his supportive action in Sudan. They hope that this visual petition will break the usual stereotype of college students being apathetic and indifferent to international affairs.

Other classes are also doing their part. Every month, Catholic Relief Services chooses a theme for its Global Solidarity Network program, a “study e-broad program for Catholic higher education,” according to its website. November’s topic was “Peacekeeping in Sudan.”

Students in courses such as Tom Mogan’s Themes in Modern World History and Tim Horner’s The Dilemma of Genocide, as well as students from 27 other universities — some as nearby as Cabrini College and some as distant as the University of Notre Dame — were asked to read several articles about the issue, watch an informative video and then engage in an open forum, responding either to the readings directly or to other students’ responses. The classes then participated in one of six live webcasts with a CRS representative who explained what CRS and other groups are doing to ensure a peaceful registration and ensuing vote on Jan. 9. By the time the program officially ended on Nov. 19, the site listed 1,362 student posts.

Horner’s involvement extends beyond his classroom. Over the Thanksgiving break, Villanova bussed about 30 Lost Boys — friends of graduate student Malual Deng Duot — to Washington, D.C., one of the three sites for voter registration. “It was as simple as me asking him, ‘If you need a ride, just let us know, and we’ll get something together,'” says Horner, who considers this event a testament to just how easy it is to be proactive at a place like Villanova. Knowing that the outcome is only valid if 60 percent of those who registered actually vote, Horner is committed to bringing the group back to D.C. on Jan. 9 to cast their ballots.

Yet no on-campus event was as large as the Stand in Solidarity for Peace in Sudan vigil, held this past Tuesday at 4 p.m. in the St. Thomas of Villanova Church. Drawing a crowd of about 250 and reporters from NBC, ‘Nova’s CRS Ambassadors and STAND collaborated to raise awareness about Sudan and also to telephone the White House and deliver a twofold message to the representative on the other end.

Vigil moderator and graduate student Greg Watson, who also spoke briefly before Tuesday night’s B.o.B. concert, explained the goals of the phone calls as, first, to thank Obama for taking action thus far and, second, to encourage the continuation of the United States’ peacekeeping efforts. Prior to this, however, a series of speakers addressed the crowd.

The first was Barbara Wall, Villanova’s vice president for Mission and Ministry.

“We can’t be in solidarity with someone if we don’t know anything about them,” she tells the crowd. “It is important that we all be well-informed in this struggle for peace in Sudan.” She finished by reminding the audience of the upcoming holiday.

“Tonight is just one small part of solidarity with the rest of the world,” Wall says. “This is a time of Advent, a time of waiting. But don’t wait passively.”

The second speaker, Maureen McCullough, a CRS regional director whose office is in Radnor, spoke of her trip several years ago to Rwanda and then of her recent trip to southern Sudan.

“[While in Rwanda], I was haunted by the questions: ‘Where was my voice?’ ‘Where was I 15 years ago when this horrific violence was occurring?'” she says. “I personally vow to not be haunted again.”

Horner spoke next, beginning with, “As Americans, we do not like to see people suffering.” Mentioning the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and Gacaca in Rwanda, he emphasized creativity in raising awareness.

“We often lack creativity in thinking about how we can help,” he says. “Right now we need to ask Sudan, ‘What do you need from us?’ We cannot wait until things catch fire.”

The final speaker was Deng Duot, who shared the microphone with two other Lost Boys whom he had brought along. While he remained neutral in front of the audience, he expressed his personal hopes for Sudan in a private conversation weeks earlier.

“If southerners defend themselves, there is possibility for them to grow,” he says. “They would be well-off from the oppression that’s lasted for so long.”

In terms of what college students and Americans can do, he also has personal expectations.

“[The Sudanese] have the power to make unity attractive, but we fail to do that, so what we’re making attractive is separation,” he says. “One American is 10 Africans in making changes. People in Sudan don’t want to speak up.”