The topic for professor David Throup’s Africa in International Affairs class Thursday was Darfur, but someone other than Throup was at the front of the class.
Presidential candidate Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) took time off from his campaign to address Throup’s students and call them to action regarding the crisis in Darfur. He spoke as part of the mtvU program, “Stand In,” which brings famous personalities into college classrooms and surprises students.
“I find a lot of passion and willingness to do things in your generation,” Brownback said.
He told students to travel close to oppressed areas, arguing that this is the best way to learn about a region and its problems. He discussed places such as Chad, which neighbors Sudan, and China, which borders North Korea.
Brownback also spoke about the conditions in Darfur, a region in Sudan where genocide has killed an estimated 400,000 people and where women are often raped.
Internationally, many have accused the Sudanese government of arming and supporting the insurgent Janjaweed militiamen responsible for rapes and murders, Brownback said.
“We would provide food, but in order to cook, (the Darfurian refugees) needed wood,” Brownback said. “When they went out (of the camps, the refugees) were attacked by the Janjaweed.”
Brownback encouraged students to write to their legislators requesting support for federal divestment from companies that invest in the Sudanese economy. Brownback cautioned that a change would not occur overnight, especially because of heavy Chinese investment in the region, but he said he still has faith in eventual change.
“What happened in South Africa over a long time is what makes me believe (divestment) can work,” Brownback said. He also said that divestment by Americans has a “decent chance of spreading to Europe.”
Students in the class did not know Brownback was speaking until he showed up midway through the session.
“It was a complete surprise,” sophomore Krista Santilli said. “He was very passionate and well-informed.”
Freshman Nida Jafrani was also impressed by Brownback. Jafrani is an active member in GW Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, which lobbies for the end of genocide in Darfur.
In October, the group was successful in lobbying the University to provide a full four-year scholarship for a Darfurian student to attend GW.
Jafrani said that Brownback’s lecture reaffirmed STAND’s work.
“His support makes it more real,” she said.
Senior Craig Souza was not as enthusiastic about Brownback’s visit.
“I respect his moral ambition and no one can deny he’s genuine, but for a senator he is ignoring some political aspects,” Souza said.
He said Brownback did not address the international aspect of handling the crisis in Darfur. Souza said that divestment would help, but without complete international support it will not work because others nations would just fill the gaps in investment left by the United States.
Throup said he knew for about a week that Brownback and mtvU would be surprising his class, but only told his students that they should expect University camera crews to arrive during Thursday’s class.
Throup said he was pleased to have hosted Brownback, but added that he disagreed with some of the Senator’s recommendations.
“His heart is in the right places, but his policy perspective is off,” Throup said. “The actual nature (of the crisis) is more complex.”
Past mtvU “Stand In” guest lecturers at other universities include Bill Gates, John McCain, Madonna and Kanye West.
Stephen Friedman, general manager of mtvU, said speakers are chosen because they are in positions in politics or culture that allow them to shape history as it is happening.
Brownback was chosen because he “has been at the forefront of the charge of calling the U.S. government and the world to do more (regarding the crisis in Darfur),” Friedman said.
All episodes are shown first online before being aired on mtvU channels nationwide. Brownback’s appearance at GW will be available at mtvU.com on May 9 at 7 a.m., and will be aired on mtvU later that day at noon.