Students plan Darfur action

Professor skeptical of boycotting campaign

Yoni Levitan and Ira Goldstein are on a mission: to increase student awareness about the situation in Darfur, and to do something positive about it.

Levitan, Comm ’07 and president of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND), joined the Queen’s chapter last February.

Levitan and Goldstein, ArtSci ’07 and STAND divestment director, are hoping Queen’s will be the first Canadian university to stop doing business with companies providing indirect support to the Sudanese government.

“Social change comes from universities,” Goldstein said, adding that he and Levitan have been in contact with the University’s finance office to get an idea of where the University’s money is going.

“You may not care about what’s going on, but your money is going toward this,” Goldstein said, adding that a “Sudan free” movement toward various mutual funds and investments is gaining power.

“The Sudanese government relies heavily on human investment,” he said. “If we can eliminate this investment, it can save lives.”

According to Goldstein, the increasingly dangerous situation in Darfur has driven out various humanitarian aid organizations, resulting in people left isolated.

Josh Scheinert, Communications Director for STAND Canada, stressed the importance of greater media and news coverage on the crisis.

“The media’s lack of attention to Darfur shows a serious moral flaw on the part of news editors to do their jobs properly,” Scheinert said.

Scheinert commended students across the country for the efforts they have made so far.

“Very dedicated students are coalescing into one movement through various tacks, and it is creating a ripple effect.” On Nov. 28, Rock the House, a letter-writing campaign that plans to bombard Prime Minister Stephen Harper with mail encouraging him to put pressure on companies that support the Sudanese government, takes place between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. in the Upper Ceilidh of the JDUC.

With a list of talking points, students are given a starting point for their letter, but can also choose to sign a previously drafted letter that addresses the critical issues. These letters will be collected and mailed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Doug Bland, chair of defence management studies within the policy studies department and who has written articles about the situation in Darfur, said campaigns such as STAND are symptomatic of a serious problem in Canadian universities and with Canadian university students.

“That problem is that everybody wants to write letters and make noise about somebody doing something, but they don’t want to do something themselves,” he said.

“[The letters] will simply be put in the pile with all sorts of other people who are anxious and rubbing their hands about their issues.” Instead, Bland said students should be engaging in the responsible citizen concept, taking responsibility for the policies they think are important instead of demanding someone else do it.

“I think it would be more useful if the students … spent their time raising volunteer units to go to Darfur to take part in the problem.” Bland said he has had many students over the years who argue that Canada should be doing more peace-keeping.

“When I point out to them that the recruiting station is just down the road, they say ‘Who? Me?’”

Bland is also skeptical of the impact of divesting from countries providing indirect support in Sudan.

“It fails me to understand how destroying the economy of the country will benefit the people at the lower levels,” he said. “The effect of embargos and … stopping business in countries or discontinuing investment in those countries destroys the lower classes and impoverishes women and children.”

—With files from Lisa Jemison

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