The Belmont University officials who organized the Wednesday event said they had warned Abdelbagi Kabeir, deputy chief of mission at Sudan's Embassy in Washington, that the audience would be strongly opposed to his government, according to an article in The Tennessean newspaper.
Many who attended accused Sudan of supporting murder, rape and other atrocities against citizens in the Darfur region, where government-backed Arab militias are attacking ethnic African tribes. Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has called what is happening in Darfur a genocide, and a recent U.S. report estimates the violence has killed more than 70,000 and created 1.8 million refugees.
Sudan also has been wracked by a 21-year civil war between Muslim government forces and largely Christian and animist rebels in the south seeking greater autonomy and a greater share of the country's wealth. The conflict is blamed for more than 2 million deaths, primarily from war-induced famine and disease.
Belmont sophomore Amr Ali described how his family escaped Sudan after the government harassed his mother and beat his father. The student is about to become an American citizen, but he told Kabeir that he wouldn't forget his native country.
"I want you to look at me," the 19-year-old told the ambassador. "This is the future. The people that you have oppressed, the people that your government has kicked out of the country will go back. We will make the country greater than it has ever been since you have raped it since 1989."
The crowd gave Ali a loud ovation.
Kabeir said he also had been a refugee in the 1990s and that his government had admitted "atrocities" and asked for help in controlling ethnic conflicts that have lasted for 50 years.
"We acknowledge there is a serious problem. We called for international assistance," he said.
History professor Daniel Schafer, who spoke on behalf of Amnesty International, said the diplomat is a "genocide denier" whose government is strongly implicated in the atrocities.
Schafer urged the students to leave and take part in a letter-writing campaign in the next room. "He is not here to listen to our concerns, but to pretend to listen to our concerns," Schafer said.
About 70 students followed Schafer in the walkout.
Belmont University, with 4,000 undergraduate students, is a private Christian college related to the Tennessee Baptist Convention.