Students for a Free Tibet, a nonprofit organization seeking an end to Chinese occupation in the nation of Tibet, will include UNC among its 400 chapters across the globe, beginning next week.
The UNC chapter is founded by Scott O'Day, a sophomore music major who said he conceived the idea last spring at a meeting for the Duke University chapter of the group.
"I got the chance to meet some key people, including SFT's executive director, and I learned that there were many, many SFT chapters," he said. "It was very surprising to me that we did not have one."
O'Day said the group will focus on educating the UNC community about the issue of Tibetan independence by sponsoring speakers, films and workshops.
O'Day said he hopes building campus awareness on the issue will lead to student activism on behalf of an oppressed nation.
"Because of our freedom of speech, we're voicing concerns that the people of Tibet can not," he said.
"I feel that many small voices can be very strong."
The issue of Tibetan independence gained national notoriety when members of the hip-hop group The Beastie Boys established the Milarepa Fund in 1996. Money from the fund, which led to the creation of Students for a Free Tibet, was generated by benefit CDs and concerts featuring other well-known musicians.
O'Day said it was these albums that first inspired him to get involved in the cause.
But for Robert Cox, a UNC communications professor and the faculty advisor for the new chapter, the plight of the Tibetan people made an impact many years earlier during his 1987 visit to the small Asian nation.
"I was really struck with the rapid loss of Tibetan culture," Cox said.
"The people were in a fierce struggle for their own human dignity."
Cox said he has been impressed with the efforts of the group and compared the organization to Students for Economic Justice, a group that protests unfair labor conditions in developing countries.
"This movement was born on campuses, including UNC, and has made a huge difference in enacting labor reform among large corporations," Cox said of SEJ.
"The free Tibet cause is exactly the kind of affair that liberal arts students can effectively be engaged in."
O'Day said the group will hold its first interest meeting in the next couple weeks and will soon make a proposal to Student Congress for funding. The group must have funds in order to pay $100 in dues to the international organization.
O'Day added that even those not familiar with the issue of Tibetan independence might find themselves inspired by getting involved with Students for a Free Tibet.
"To me, it's a miniature holocaust," O'Day said of the occupation of Tibet.
"It takes 10 minutes to find out something that will potentially change your life."
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