Fourth-year anthropology student Bridget Smith informs passersby about the UCLA Darfur Action Committee's efforts to end the crisis in Sudan. (DB).
But instead of catching Zs or hanging 10, a handful of students from the Claremont Colleges set right out on a mission to open eyes: a winding road trip through California that they hoped would draw attention to a dire situation in a country half a world away.
Equipped with a mass of petitions, a few hundred T-shirts and a $400 gift card to Vons, five young women zig-zagged across the state last month to spread awareness about the ongoing crisis in Darfur.
"Our main goal was to raise awareness and get people talking about the issue," said Daniela Urban, who graduated from Scripps College on May 13. "People don't know what's going on and how severe the problem is."
An estimated 180,000 people have died and 2 million others have fled their homes since early 2003 in Darfur, a region in western Sudan where the government is accused of supporting Arab militia attacks on ethnic Africans.
President Bush and humanitarian organizations around the world have called the killings genocide.
Motivated by awareness campaigns and vigils on their campuses, and frustrated by a sense of public apathy, the Claremont students started brainstorming before the semester's end about something anything they could do to help.
"It felt like it was hard to do anything to help them because they were so far away," said trip organizer Talia Kahn.
"We felt like this wasn't an issue to the government, mostly because it wasn't an issue to the people," said Kahn, who will be a junior at Claremont McKenna College. "So we felt the best way to reach out was to talk to a wide range of people and get out to a variety of communities."
Thus came the idea for the "Road Trip for Sudan." Between classes and studying, the women began scheduling stops up and down California at high schools, synagogues, shopping centers and legislators' offices anywhere they might get an audience.
Once school let out for summer, Kahn and Claremont McKenna student Candice Camargo set out for San Diego with petitions, informational fliers and "Stop Genocide in Sudan" T-shirts in hand.
A couple of days later, they joined up with Urban, Pitzer College student Betsy Marder and Pomona College student Melinda Koster and headed out to Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade to pass out information and sell shirts.
"People in the street a lot of them were saying, "Where's Sudan? What's going on there?'" Urban said of the challenges they encountered. "It hasn't gotten the news coverage it needs to."
After another day in Los Angeles, the students headed north to Camarillo, then up to Santa Barbara, Carmel and San Francisco, spending portions of each day passing out materials at shopping centers and speaking to high school classes.
Inside the classrooms, the Claremont students urged the teenagers to get involved by reading up on the crisis, writing letters to their political leaders and spreading the word among their peers.
"Speaking to the high schools, the students were just so inspired," Kahn said. "They were just appalled by what was going on, and they wanted to do something."
In San Francisco, the young women met with representatives for Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, presenting them with "stop genocide" shirts.
Later, during a couple of days in Sacramento, they met with legislators' representatives to urge politicians from across the state to do more to raise awareness about the Darfur situation in their local districts.
"We wanted them to be an advocate like we were," Urban said. "We weren't asking them to influence policy, but to speak out."
Although the 10-day trip ended last month, the students said they will continue their push for more awareness and assistance for the Darfur situation.
After several months of silence on the issue, President Bush again referred to the situation as genocide in recent weeks and NATO officials agreed this month to step up peacekeeping efforts by flying about 5,000 African peacekeepers into the region.
Much more aid and concern must come in to have an impact in the region, Kahn said.
"I think it's getting pushed under the rug," she said.