Campaigners of conscience


Issue: "Can the boom last?," Oct. 16, 1999

When Ethan Jerome decided to sleep outside in the middle of February, it was no camp-out. The Southern Wesleyan University senior spent three nights in a makeshift slave pen in a bid to persuade fellow students to join his campaign on behalf of the thousands of slaves in Sudan sleeping in far worse conditions. He challenged students to write letters to Congress on behalf of the Sudanese, and they complied after he spent three below-freezing nights in the open. "I had to do something that was over the edge to get my point across," Ethan said. "People didn't believe I would stay in there." Ethan is on the leading edge of the Campaign of Conscience for Sudan, a movement that is activating university students across the nation against the genocidal tactics of Sudan's ruling National Islamic Front. At a symposium at Georgetown University nearly a year ago, students were introduced to the problem of slavery in Sudan by British human-rights advocate Baroness Caroline Cox, Prison Fellowship head Charles Colson, and others. Students representing more than 200 universities attended the event and developed statements of conscience and formal appeals to stop the killing, which in 16 years has left almost 2 million people dead in Sudan. The student activists have mustered some 10,000 emails to members of Congress seeking government action. Citizen petition is not the only tactic, and Ethan Jerome, with his slave pen, is not the only passionate student activist. Grace Chiu, a graduate student from Harvard, planned a symposium and prayer vigil for nine area schools. Students at Columbia University demonstrated in front of United Nations headquarters in New York. Scott Michael, a graduate student at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary, organized a rally at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. The campus activism is not going unnoticed. In recent hearings on Capitol Hill, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the House human-rights subcommittee, praised the campaign for "raising the consciousness of Americans and of decent people the world over about the terrible situation of the people of Sudan." Last July, the Senate agreed to a resolution that parallels the student statement of conscience. Joseph Assad, who coordinates the campaign through Freedom House Center for Religious Freedom, views the student support as a key factor in current legislative initiatives. "Congress only acts on an issue if they have heard from their constituents. When we met in November, there was nothing going on in Congress for Sudan," Mr. Assad said. He also said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and others in the Clinton administration are more aware of the campaign. "It's an uphill battle," said Ethan, who is now a graduate student at Biola University in southern California. Ethan says he will be disappointed if his remains the most radical story of activism.

-Kate Larose is a World Journalism Institute student

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