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One Student’s Crusade to Stop Genocide by The Humanitarian Blog

I confess to regarding the phrase “never again” with cynicism. It offers a rhetorical smokescreen behind which the world can, and invariably does, conceal its cowardice in the face of human suffering. If more people like Kayvan fill the ranks of our leadership, however, it may well recover the meaning that it has lost.

MIT isn’t a political campus. Sure, it had its moments during the 1960s. In 1968, a coalition that included 48 MIT faculty members protested “the militarization of university research,” and in November of the following year, another group chanted, “We won’t die for Pool and Pye” (Ithiel de Sola Pool and Lucian Pye were two high-profile scholars at the Institute’s Center for International Studies [CIS]). In 1971, following Daniel Ellsberg’s leak of the documents that would come to be known as the Pentagon Papers (Ellsberg was a Visiting Research Fellow at the time), a group bombed the CIS.

Since that violent culmination – thankfully, no one was hurt in the blast – activism has largely been confined to a few small groups, many of which have gained a reputation as “fringe.” Initial reports of indiscriminate attacks against Sudanese civilians in the region of Darfur in February 2003 passed without much discussion at MIT. After the attacks were labeled as “genocide,” however, the Institute was placed in an awkward situation. While it didn’t want to appear indifferent in the face of the atrocities that were occurring – atrocities to which its investments could well have been contributing, however minimally – it was hesitant to make “an exception to its long-standing policy of not speaking with a single institutional voice on matters of public debate not directly affecting MIT’s core mission of education, research, and service.”

Enter Kayvan Zainabadi G, a 27-year old native of Iran who’s pursuing his Ph.D. in Course 7.

Although he spent most of his life in southern California, receiving his bachelor’s from UCLA, it wasn’t until coming to MIT that Kayvan found his activist voice. He told me, “After reading the news reports coming out of Darfur…about the atrocities, the rapes, the fact that genocide was once again occurring, though this time in real-time, I just had to do something – anything.” Kayvan got connected to other activists in the Boston area by attending a Darfur rally in Government Center. “People asked me, ‘What’s going on at MIT to address this?’ I had no answer, so I started looking around and asking – I found out that MIT hadn’t even taken the most basic steps, like ensuring that its endowment wasn’t funding the genocide.”

And that’s when Kayvan’s campaign began. Through tireless work – he has hosted lectures, screenings, and photo exhibits; written letters and opinion pieces; delivered postcards to and met with Michael Capuano, Cambridge’s congressional representative; and so forth – he has single-handedly made the crisis in Darfur one of the MIT community’s biggest priorities.

Over a year later, his efforts paid off when MIT decided to “divest as appropriate for those portfolios to exclude securities that would violate MIT’s investment principles [in Sudan].” This action is without precedent in the Institute’s history: MIT was one of the few schools that didn’t divest from companies that were operating in South Africa during the 1980s.

This landmark accomplishment under his belt, Kayvan has partnered with a growing band of MIT activists to establish a chapter of STAND (a student anti-genocide coalition) at the Institute. STAND and Amnesty International are hosting two important upcoming events: DarfurFast on Wednesday, December 5th, and a Darfur Fundraiser Dinner in Walker Memorial on Sunday, December 9th. Both are intended to raise awareness of the crisis in Darfur and purchase solar cookers for the three million Sudanese civilians who now live in refugee camps.

What’s next? As he continues his Darfur activism, Kayvan’s working to establish a Standing Committee on Investment Responsibility that would consider the social, environmental, and corporate governance impacts of MIT’s investments.

Thankfully, activism will continue to be a part of his life. I confess to regarding the phrase “never again” with cynicism. It offers a rhetorical smokescreen behind which the world can, and invariably does, conceal its cowardice in the face of human suffering. If more people like Kayvan fill the ranks of our leadership, however, it may well recover the meaning that it has lost.

14 responses to “One Student’s Crusade to Stop Genocide”

  1. Anonymous says:

    …but really, another reason why I love MIT so much…its got people who are realllllyyyyy coooool!!!!!!

    btw…I got my satII scores recently, nov. 20…

    math2: 800
    chem: 800
    physics: 800

    sooooooooooooooooo happy…i studied reallyhard for them…..

  2. Karen says:


    I second the “Kayvan is great, etc. etc.” thing.

    And I also second the thing about attending the DARFUR FUNDRAISING DINNER. Not that that has anything to do with the fact that I’ve spent more time on that than actual schoolwork nowadays…

    I just second the whole thing.

  3. Paul says:

    Having actually met the man, I have to say that, when it comes to someone who’s so passionate about saving the world (starting with Darfur), Kayvan is nonetheless one of the most down-to-earth people I’ve ever had the opportunity of talking to.

    I’m glad to see he finally got his own blog entry. wink

  4. Anonymous says:

    Pfft.. the pages on international students are scarier than anything you guys say raspberry

    On topic though, I think it’s really sad that there’s not much we can do. Even if we do stop genocide in Darfur, genocide has been around since humans were around and there’s just too much, too far away, and too well-concealed to help all of them. Maybe there’s a better way of helping, but I really can’t think of anything.

    But then again, what little everyone does to help means a lot to the people they help. In some countries, all people need is $50 to change their lives forever. In the same countries, some people who do get $50 would just spend it all on cheap alcohol and cigarettes.

    And then, often in some countries, both sides are equally guilty. People have a tendency to take sides after hearing one side of the story and sometimes they’d help innocents defend themselves against other innocents (who attacked in self-defense). Makes me a little reluctant to help people sometimes :(

    Personal thoughts aside, I salute Kayvan for what he’s doing. It takes a very brave person to stand up to anything, especially genocide. I really hope that he succeeds in making the world a better place. The world can be so bleak to some people, sometimes all it takes is a smiling face to give them hope again.

  5. Teresa '11 says:

    Way to scare the other applicants, Anonymous.

  6. Fred says:


    Let me tell you one true story- I know one international student who also got perfect satII scores, exactly the same as yours. This person also won IChO gold medal in his junior year and rank #1 in his class.

    Guess what? He was not admitted to MIT last year!

  7. Teresa '11 says:

    Way to scare Anonymous, Fred. Don’t make me launch the what-MIT-is-looking-for discussion here!

  8. ronald says:

    go on teresa..launch the discussion..we are all ears!!! btw fred..what makes u think anonymous is an international? prejudice i say…..

  9. I know says:

    I think I know who anonymous is.He is from India.He studies in Delhi.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Wow, it takes students–not professors and administrators–to stop participating in genocide. just wow. Great administration and faculty.

  11. Guinea says:

    I have to say that I’m kind of surprised that MIT students did not take immediate action to help Darfur victims.
    STAND is a large and growing organization, just for your information. It extends its branches to every continent, including South East Asia smile (I know because I’m an avid member of STAND in my school in Malaysia)
    I agree with “Anonymous” that genocide is not really stoppable, but not doing anything will only make things worse. So, I’m all for Kayvan continuing his efforts on humanitarianism and anti-genocism…. If the latter is even a word… :p
    I hope that students in MIT are compelled to join these organizations (not only STAND, but other community service). I can tell you out of first hand experience that it gives you a wuzzy feeling knowing that you improved someone else’s life ^^.

  12. Guinea says:

    haha… it’s so me to mess up a post :p
    guess that’s why I’m never a fan of facebook walls