For 24 hours from Sunday to Monday, Tommy Trojan was surrounded by students, chanting names of victims of world atrocities.
These students were participating in Together We Remember, a 24-hour vigil hosted by the USC chapter of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, a group that aims to prevent and spread awareness about genocide.
Jason Nikora, a member of STAND and a writer for the Daily Trojan, found it powerful to recognize the victims of the past.
“For a couple of seconds, they get to exist in time again,” Nikora said. “We get to recognize the fact that what happened to them is terrible and honor them in this sort of way.”
Based on the Jewish custom of placing a pebble on the graves of deceased family members, the event sought to honor those who have been killed — no matter their background, religious preference or country of origin.
“We want to honor the people of the past by reading their names, but we also want to honor them in the best way that we can, which is by preventing that from happening in the future, or at least reducing the effects of genocide and atrocities,” said Darcy Gleeson, the Western regional organizer of STAND. “The best way to do that is to make sure everyone knows that they’re happening.”
In addition to the vigil, STAND hosted a table of information about global genocides, guest speakers who read poetry and novels and an open forum for a community discussion.
“Just to hear the facts is powerful,” Gleeson said. “There are still some people that don’t believe that the Holocaust happened, and there’s still some people that don’t believe that other atrocities are truly happening.”
One of the ways that STAND spread these facts was through a virtual reality video students could watch at the table. It gave a 360 degree look into the lives of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group in Burma which is most at risk for genocide in the world, according to Gleeson. Around 90 percent of the population in Burma is Buddhist.
“The Rohingya are among the few Muslim minority groups that have been marginalized for a long time in Burma and have more recently been targeted and placed into what we call kind of like early stage Auschwitz,” Gleeson said. “We have our partners at the Nexus fund [that] basically smuggled themselves into Burma to make this virtual reality film and disseminate it and get the word out about what’s happening.”
Passersby could also sign a petition to protest the U.S. government’s recent action to reduce the State Department’s funding for foreign aid. Currently making up less than 1 percent of the federal budget, foreign aid gives the government the ability to help at-risk people without military intervention.
“The day that we don’t have to have [a foreign aid fund] is the day that we’ve ended genocide, which is obviously a long way off,” Nikora said. “People in Sudan, for instance, or Burma are completely cut off from the outside world. It’s very difficult for them to get food, to get clean water, medicine, so that really just goes toward that, trying to get them up to a better standard of living as best we can.”
STAND hopes the event will cause students to reflect on the world outside of campus, something that can at times be difficult to remember to do. Jenna Dresner, a STAND member, thinks that the USC community, while known for its diversity, should take a harder look at history.
“There is some level of apathy,” Dresner said. “We’re at USC [in] beautiful Los Angeles and why would we even think of people around the world that are being affected by mass atrocities? So by hosting, we’re saying, ‘We’re here, and we care.’”