Darfur: A Pivotal Moment For MIT
As you might have read in The Tech last week, the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR) recently submitted their recommendations on divestment from Sudan to the MIT Corporation's Executive Committee (a whopping seven months after they first convened). But what you might not have heard was that on that same day, the issue of MIT's divestment came up in another forum: during the Karl Taylor Compton lecture by Senator Edward Kennedy.
During a question and answer session following the lecture, a student asked Senator Kennedy about the genocide in Darfur and about our moral obligation to act. During his response, Senator Kennedy mentioned "an impressive" grassroots divestment campaign that has sprung up across states and universities in response to the genocide. Provocatively, Senator Kennedy turned directly to our President, who was sitting in the front row, and asked her where MIT stood on this front.
I wonder what President Hockfield would have responded had she had a microphone? Given that we are one of only a very few top universities in the country who have not even completed a formal decision on divestment, I imagine the response would have been very short. And given that 41 universities and nine states, including California — the seventh largest economy in the world — have already divested from Sudan (some more than two years ago), MIT's silence on this front is at best shameful.
However, all is not lost. The MIT Executive Committee is now in a unique position to change things, to turn this whole thing around. How? By aiming higher, much higher. Why not, instead of simply divesting from Sudan, which we are lagging behind in anyway, take on new initiatives that actually fully utilize the talents and capability of our Institute, to truly make MIT a leader in helping the people of Darfur?
How? Why not organize an Institute-wide fundraiser to raise money for humanitarian aid for the 2.5 million Darfur civilians currently living on a thread in refugee camps? Why not use the skills of MIT's expert engineers to start a program to build solar cookers for the women of Darfur, many of whom have been violently raped while looking for firewood to cook with? And why not use MIT's notable position with the oil and petrochemical industries to pressure them to act responsibly in Darfur?
The possibilities are endless. The only question which remains is whether we simply have the will to act. Otherwise, I fear we will find ourselves singing the sadly all-too-familiar tune of "Never again" while Darfur burns to nothingness.