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QC students sleep in tents to draw attention to genocide

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As Queens College students got back into the swing of academic life this week, they were greeted by something a little out of the ordinary.

A number of large camping tents pitched on the school’s quad were set up by high-energy students as the sun rose Monday morning, begging the question from many of the people who passed by: Why are those there?

“So you look over here and you see a bunch of people and you say, ‘What is this,’” said Chloe’ Skye, a sophomore at Queens College. “Well, it’s a weeklong event during which we’ll sleep in the tents to raise awareness about refugee crises worldwide.”

The Flushing school’s chapter of Students Take Action Now Darfur organized the second-annual Refugee Campus, which has evolved into a week full of events to raise awareness about the genocides in Darfur in Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as a wide variety of social and political issues, including the refugee crisis in Afghanistan and the lack of access to clean water in India, Senegal and China.

It has attracted kudos from a number of high-profile individuals, including former President Bill Clinton.

“I firmly believe that the best avenue to positive change often starts with young people acting on their idealism, and events like this one play a pivotal role in helping promising young leaders turn their good intentions into real results,” Clinton wrote in a letter to the STAND students that was read out loud during the Refugee Campus’ kick-off event Monday. “I encourage all those involved in Refugee Campus to take action to help bring an end to genocide, whether it is through activism or education, either locally or abroad.”

Sue Henderson, the vice president of institutional advancement at Queens College, praised the student organizers and said their efforts shed light on a multitude of issues.

“The students have been incredibly entrepreneurial and civic-minded,” Henderson said.

Jenn Polish, a senior from Bayside who helped organize the event, said the new tents used during the week will be sent to victims of the flood in Pakistan and to people in Haiti.

“Refugees from Darfur have told me our actions give them hope, which is amazing,” Polish said. “For me, their existence gives me hope. They’ve told me there are families in Darfur who have heard about Refugee Campus, and they said they feel hopeful because of it. We’re giving refugees across the world hope, and that’s the most humbling and inspiring thing.”

Event organizers, who have partnered with Global Friends in Aid, will also be raising money to send students in DR Congo to school.

On Thursday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., Bronx Community College professor Jawied Nawabi is expected to give a presentation on the refugee crisis in Afghanistan. Nawabi is also a member of the Afghanistan Peace Association. Marc Yaggi, deputy director of the Waterkeeper Alliance, was slated to give a presentation on residents who are fighting for clean water in India, Senegal and China.

Yaa-Lengi Ngemi, director of research of the New York-based African Research and Educational Institute, will speak about the genocide in the DRC from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the quad Friday.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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