Seeing tents pitched on Duke University’s campus is not uncommon — but this time students aren’t sleeping outside for basketball tickets.
In a cross-campus effort, members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) chapters from UNC and Duke are indefinitely occupying Duke’s Chapel Quad.
Students built a “mock prison” to show support for an ongoing hunger strike taking place among Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
Prashanth Kamalakanthan, a junior political science major and chairman of Duke’s SDS chapter, organized the event to increase the issue’s visibility.
“Really, some of the most fundamental rights are being trampled,” he said.
“This is to show that we’re not going to stay silent as this is happening.”
Kamalakanthan said more than half of the prison population at Guantanamo is participating in the strike. Some of the strikers, he said, are being force-fed nasally — a form of force-feeding that the United Nations considers torture.
“The detainees are becoming increasingly suicidal and desperate, and we wanted to show support,” he said.
Kate Jones, a senior history major at UNC and member of SDS, participated in the demonstration on Monday.
She said her interest in the cause recently ignited upon reading an op-ed published by a detainee who has been held without charges or a trial for the past 11 years. Although he has been set to be released, he is still being held.
“Detainees are speaking out for their own cause, and that has sparked student interest to speak out,” she said.
“We can’t let violations of human rights like this fly under the radar.”
Jones said the demonstration has accomplished one of SDS’ primary goals — raising student awareness.
“It’s easy to get trapped in the university bubble, but it’s important to stand up for human rights violations when we see them,” she said.
The demonstration is also collecting signatures for a petition to send to President Barack Obama.
Kamalakanthan said President Obama ran on a campaign promise to close Guantanamo, but this promise has slipped under the radar.
“A lot of people don’t even know the situation now, which is amazing,” he said.
“We like to engage in discussion, which has been really constructive.”
Kamalakanthan said SDS members debated different strategies for their demonstration.
“We liked the idea of indefinite occupation because it mirrors the hazy vague state of imprisonment that the detainees are subjected to,” he said.
“We will be present for as long as we can, which sends a bolder message to students and other visitors.”
Ekaterina Khvostova, a sophomore physics major at UNC and a member of SDS, encouraged her fellow students to participate.
“If you have the time to be out there to show the hunger strikers that they have a group of people fighting for them, you should,” she said.
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