Honors Students in Action - Darfur Interview

Honors studentsHonors students Alison Piché, Brianna Kujawski and Kacie Allen speak to fellow Honors student and “Genocide: Darfur Film and Discussion” teacher Lauren Tousignant about the media, Bono, and genocide in Darfur, Sudan.

Alison, Brianne and Kacie:
When did you first become aware of the problems in Darfur, and how?

I can't pinpoint the exact time when I first became aware of the problems in Darfur, but I can tell you that once I started my time here at Lasell I became much more aware of the social problems facing different parts of the world. Upon becoming increasingly aware a few years ago I started to seek out more news relating to these current issues, and the genocide in Darfur has been hugely recognized by many different groups of activists as well as journalists who are trying to expose these types of issues.

Why did you decide to teach this course?

The course actually formed out of an Honors Component project done by Chelsea Comeau and myself that was part of one of our education courses taught by John Carroll. Originally we were only planning out a current social issues course on paper as an exercise in class planning since we are secondary education majors, and John Carroll, along with Chelsea and I, decided that it would be great to take it a step further and create an actual course for the college. At the end of that semester we asked Chris Herget and Kevin Lawson to take part in creating this student-led course with us around current social issues because we were in the same course that the honors component came out of and we are all secondary education majors. We narrowed down the topic to Darfur over the summer when we decided that taking on social issues in general was far too big a task. We decided to choose the genocide in Darfur because it is such a current important and urgent issue that so many still do not know about, and we admittedly wanted to learn more about it ourselves. We were helped so much in our planning and implementing of this course by Cathy Zeek, John Carroll, and Stephanie Athey, who are all part of the faculty here at Lasell.

Do you think that the media plays a large role in what we know about Darfur?

I absolutely believe that the media plays a large role in what we as the public in the United States know about the genocide in Darfur. In the course there was much discussion generated over the fact that there is not nearly enough media attention surrounding the issues in Darfur, or focused on social problems around the world for that matter. At our age, we are very much a generation influenced by the media. For many, whether it be consciously or subconsciously, the media shapes how we view different aspects of the world and sometimes even our values. Mainstream media of television, the radio, and major published newspapers and magazines tend to keep in mind special interests of specific individuals or groups that they have ties with, and this can affect the types of stories that get released and highlighted. Although there has been some media attention on Darfur such as concerts trying to raise money and awareness for the cause that have gotten press, some Hollywood stars speaking out about the issue (most will immediately think of Bono of U2), and even just news stories focusing on the issue, it is not nearly enough. MTVU even created a game called "Darfur is Dying" to raise awareness about the hardships being faced by the people, but MTVU is aimed at college students, and while their efforts are great and many have visited this online game, college students are known to be one of the most active groups in social issues already.

What this means is that MTV is not quite spreading this knowledge and awareness to its mainstream viewers on the actual station, but instead to a demographic who is already largely involved and aware of current social issues. We, instead, see the clear, cliche focus of mainstream media, especially media targeting young people, on problems and issues that directly affect the people watching as well as on products etc. that fuel consumerism in order for these businesses to make money. There are, of course, many efforts that must be recognized in mainstream media that attempt to educate the people, but an overwhelming amount of mainstream media is dangerously focused elsewhere. There are, however, alternate sources for people to turn to in order to educate themselves and take action, but most times these sources need to be sought out by individuals. The problem is that many times individuals seeking this information already possess some knowledge about these causes and some desire to learn and act. (I hope I stayed on topic with what you wanted to find out for this one!)

Where do you normally learn about current events? (news, radio, reading etc)

I usually turn to the internet for information on current events only because it has such a wide variety of information that I can find quickly. Many times you have to be aware that some things on the internet are not always from reliable sources, and much can be biased and quite opinionated, but taking in as much as possible about something you want to learn about and then forming your own opinions on the issue can be made much easier by using the internet if you look in the right places. One site that I visit is BBC's (http://news.bbc.co.uk), which contains regional and world news that you can narrow down to what you want to find or just browse the site. Another site that I will sometimes take a look at is PBS’ Newshour site (http://www.pbs.org/newshour). One magazine that covers global news is “The Economist”.

What was successful about the course you taught? What wasn’t?

I believe the biggest success in the course was having all of the students who came into the course not knowing about the genocide in Darfur leaving the course as educated and motivated individuals. One major success that came out of the course was “Darfur Day” here at Lasell that was held on November 14. The day was put on by the Chelsea, Chris, Kevin, and I, who taught the course, as well as in large by the students involved in the course. We viewed the day as a time to raise awareness and have people act and speak out against the genocide; we had letters written, petitions signed, t-shirts sold with funds going the Save Darfur Coalition, a candlelight vigil in remembrance of those who have lost their lives in the conflict, as well as statistics that were posted across the campus. For us as education students, I believe I can say that all of us feel getting through to students and actually being able to teach a course was a huge success. This was the first course of its kind here at Lasell, so things were not always as smooth as we would like. There were instances where technology didn’t work, where we stumbled over words, and where we had students who didn’t always show up to meetings, but over all, the course was a great success. We learned a lot about course planning and implementing, but also about the crisis in Darfur.

Do you plan to continue spreading information about what is happening in Darfur? If yes, how so?

I believe that all of us who taught the course plan on continuing to raise awareness and taking action in stopping the genocide in Darfur. We are actually hoping to have another “Darfur Day” here on campus since the first was such a success, and we also hope for more of these days to continue happening until the genocide comes to an end. College students play such a large role in social action, and big steps are being taken to make Lasell students aware that they can be a part of this and play a role in making a difference. Kevin has been especially active in this area and has put so much hard work into creating groups and opportunities for Lasell students to take part in social action.

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