Undampened days of Darfur


Wednesday evening was too windy for candles, too cold and rainy to draw much of a crowd. Still, more than a dozen students gathered under a tent in Swift Quad to hold a prayer vigil for Darfur. Sponsored by Chicago's STAND chapter, whose members advocate University divestment from Sudan, the vigil followed three days of campus lectures and discussions about the Darfur crisis. Forced indoors by the wet weather, most presentations packed capacity crowds into a Pick Hall conference room, said STAND chair emeritus Michael Pareles, "with people having to sit on the floor and even stand in the hallway."

On Tuesday Kuek Garang, a service coordinator for the human-rights organization Heartland Alliance and a Lost Boy of Sudan—one of tens of thousands of orphaned refugees forced to walk some 1,000 miles to escape the violence—offered listeners an account of his experience. Other experts, including Law School lecturer Susan Gzesh, AB'72, SSA PhD candidate Jonathan Wildt, and international-studies postdoc fellow Babafemi Akinrinade, delivered talks on the history of the Sudanese conflict and the international response. Pareles, a fourth-year, gave an explanation of targeted divestment.

Second-year Aliza Levine, STAND's chair, said the events, which paralleled others worldwide during the weeklong "Global Days of Darfur," brought newcomers to the discussion. "Lots of people we hadn't seen before," she said, "and they were asking all sorts questions. It's been great." Unlike previous STAND protests and marches confronting campus administrators in the wake of Chicago trustees' February decision not to divest from Sudan, this past week's events were "not about the University so much as about educating people," Levine said. Chimed Pareles: "No negotiations this week."

During Wednesday night's vigil, a responsive reading asked participants to imagine a tearful refugee mother, her starving child, a pitiless Sudanese official, and Darfur's suffering, slaughtered masses. "We will not stand idly by their blood," participants called out in unison. "We stand in solidarity with every one of us and every one of them." Afterward students listened to recitations of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish prayers, observed a moment of silence, and then marched to University President Robert Zimmer's house to sing: "What a goodly thing if the people of the world could dwell together in peace." Huddling in a circle, the students warbled a few rounds, then dispersed. They plan to meet up again Sunday evening for a vigil at Chicago's Federal Plaza.


Photos: Divinity student Megan Wade, AB'05, leads the prayer vigil's responsive reading; students sing outside President Zimmer's house.

April 27, 2007