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.