When students walked into the seminar room at the Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic studies on Tuesday, they knew class was going to be a little different than usual. Professors Sherri Porcelain and Miriam Klein Kassenoff had combined their classes and moved them to a different location, and there were cameras all over the room when students took their seats.
But when 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel walked in, the collective “Oooh!” displayed the awe and shock of the students sitting in the room.
“The class before we were talking about his book Night [Wiesel’s autobiographical novel about his experiences during the Holocaust] and all of a sudden he just walks in there,” Rajiv Nijhawan, sophomore, said. “It was totally unexpected.”
Wiesel’s visit was arranged by and taped for the mtvU series Stand-in, in which celebrities make a surprise appearance and take the place of the professor for the class.
Wiesel focused on the worldwide indifference toward the mass genocides occurring in Sudan and Rwanda, relating them to his experiences in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust.
“The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference,” Wiesel said. “An ethical person is one who is not indifferent.”
He talked about suffering through the Nazi regime and finding out that the world was aware of what was happening.
“When we learned that people knew, it was easy to give up on humanity,” Wiesel said.
Many are unaware of the crisis facing Sudan today. Darfur, in western Sudan, has been in conflict since February 2003, with civilians’ human rights being taken away by Janjaweed militias-Arab fighters backed by the Sudanese government. In this ethnic cleansing, more than 200,000 people have died and two million have been displaced.
Wiesel’s advice to college students was simple.
“When you read about an injustice, always take the side of the victims,” he said. “Your silence or indifference will never hurt the killer, only the victim.”
MtvU has called for students across the nation to raise awareness and make a difference in the Sudan crisis. During STANDfast on April 7, it is asking students to give up something like cigarettes or chocolate and donate the money they would have spent to a relief organization for Sudan. Approximately 150 universities around the nation, including UM, are registered to participate in STANDfast this Thursday.
Shawn Rosen-Holtzman, a student in Porcelain’s class, was inspired by Wiesel’s words and took immediate action to make a difference. She wrote a letter to the Miami Herald about the situation in Sudan and the experience with Wiesel, and it was published in its entirety that week.
Wiesel hopes that students can combat the indifference toward injustice, and believes that they can spark change through their actions.
“Remember one thing. The century is not mine. It’s yours,” Wiesel said.
The UM Stand-in episode airs April 7 on mtvU as part of STANDfast.
For more information visit www.mtvU.com.
Megha Garg can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.