GW approved a plan this month to annually give a full four-year scholarship to one student from the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan.
Last year, student activists on campus urged the administration to divest University holdings from companies that do business in the African country. The University refused to divest, but members of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur proposed the scholarship program.
In mid-September University administrators approved the plan to give one student from Darfur a Stephen Joel Trachtenberg scholarship, an award traditionally given to D.C. public school students.
“President Trachtenberg offered the students an opportunity to promote this initiative because he is convinced it is more likely to produce needed change in Sudan than divestment,” Gerry Kauvar, special assistant to the President, wrote in an e-mail.
The project, named Banaa, will begin next fall and was devised this summer by STAND leaders. STAND is a national organization that lobbies for the end to the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Organizers presented a 16-page project proposal to Trachtenberg and the University’s vice presidents two weeks ago.
Trachtenberg asked the organization last spring to propose a Darfur relief method emphasizing GW’s educational resources, said student leaders in STAND. University officials told The Hatchet last spring that GW was unlikely to divest, despite increasing campus activism.
Over two dozen major universities nationwide have committed to divestment and STAND leaders said they remain committed to lobbying for divestment at GW.
“I think this program, while it might seem like it’s related to divestment, is really separate from it,” said senior Sara Weisman, the president of STAND and a leader of Banaa.
In Arabic the word Banaa means to found, build upon or create. In its capacity at GW, Banaa is a multi-step project that will start by searching for qualified, intelligent high-school students in the Darfur region, according to the project proposal.
Using resources provided by international education organizations such as the Academy for Educational Development, Banaa representatives will interview students in Sudan and require them to submit an application essay.
According to the project proposal these steps will ensure that applicants have some English language experience and are “motivated, open-minded students.”
Once an applicant pool is formed, potential Banaa scholars will undergo a year and a half of English language training in Sudan before applying for the one available SJT scholarship.
The Banaa admission process will reflect GW’s undergraduate admission process, which requires SAT’s, transcripts, recommendation letters and a TOEFL score for international students, according to the proposal.
“Other Universities hopefully will do this as well,” said Justin Zorn, another leader of Banaa. “Our hope is that we can continue this on through the years, taking on additional students each year.”
Zorn added that he hopes GW’s efforts will serve as a model for other universities.
“Eventually, we will need to put together a really professional how-to kit about how to lobby a university’s administration,” said Zorn, who explained that they have already had informal meetings with several local STAND chapters.
According to Zorn, Trachtenberg has also offered to use his influence as University president to help generate interest at other Universities.
“President Trachtenberg believes that if a number of U.S. institutions join in this effort, Sudan will benefit from an educated cohort of leaders,” said Kauvar.
Erin Mazursky, the executive director of STAND National, said that this project is the first of its kind in Darfur.
“It is definitely unique in that they are trying to bring Darfuri students to American education,” said Mazursky, who has also offered to help spread interest. “I see it as a long-term project that will help Darfur heal its wounds.”
Although GW has pledged to cover all expenses for each Banaa scholar to attend GW, there are still many costs in Sudan that will require fundraising.
It will cost more than $7,000 to educate and transport Banaa scholars to the United States. For this, Weisman hopes to reach out to the student body and alumni for money.
“Our primary goal for the next year and half is to get them into an English program,” said Weisman, who added that they will receive additional support from GW Media Relations.
Last week, Student Association President Lamar Thorpe invited Banaa leaders to give their project proposal at an executive meeting of the Student Association.
Banaa leaders asked the SA to help convince senators to introduce a resolution in support of the project.
“This is just another example of the type of students we are,” said Thorpe in a phone interview. “We are young, politically minded men and women, and at the same time we try to change the world.”