In recent days, students have expressed their frustration with the Michigan Student Assembly’s resolution on the situation in Gaza. I wholeheartedly agree. But the issue is not that MSA should spend its time on more “relevant” matters. Tuition hikes and campus safety are major issues of concern for all of us, but MSA would do a disservice to the student body were it to remain silent in the face of global tragedy. The resolution passed last Tuesday is an inadequate response to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. And we can be silent no longer.

As a student of public health, I study epidemics and disease prevention. In my classes, I learn about using statistical models to improve quality of life and to tackle cutting-edge problems in genomics, survival analysis, and cancer research. Our school hosts seminars and colloquia on socioeconomic inequities in the healthcare system. And yet I am asked to take in all that knowledge and remain on the sidelines as I see 1,300 innocent lives being lost in a matter of weeks. Over 300 children are massacred and 5,000 civilians are wounded. How can I be expected to ignore that?

A temporary ceasefire may have been reached, but make no mistake, a catastrophe of human suffering looms in the horizon. Four hundred thousand people — 1 in 3 Gazans — are without running water today. Fifty thousand people have been left homeless. That’s more than the University’s entire student body. They may not have to deal with negative 15 degree wind chills, but tonight, they have no place to sleep and no roof over their heads because their homes were blown up and destroyed. As we celebrate the inauguration of President Obama, in some remote corner of the world, a young child is digging through the rubble to find the charred remains of his mother’s body. How can anyone tell me that isn’t relevant?

Don’t let anyone tell you this is about politics or controversy. This is about a humanitarian crisis. It has nothing to do with black or white or brown, rich or poor, Arab or Israeli, Muslim or Jewish. Too many excuses have been made for our inaction and too many false reasons given for why we should continue about our daily lives without a care for the pains of the rest of the world. Today we must say enough.

Let us shelve for good the stereotypical view of the “ugly American”: narrow-minded, self-centered, absorbed in a little bubble, nodding along to an iPod and utterly oblivious to the rest of the world. Let’s look beyond the narrow confines of our pristine campus. Let’s have the strength to dream of a better, more peaceful world.

The past weeks have seen hundreds of our fellow students take to the streets, braving the bitter cold, to make their voices heard. Some would criticize those of us who choose to speak up; such matters are better left to the United Nations, they remark sarcastically. President Obama addressed such “haters” in his Inaugural Address. “Their memories are short,” he said. “For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.”

Michigan is no ordinary school, and ours is no ordinary student body. We inherit a rich and storied heritage of student activism and we must strive to live up to its legacy. After all, it was Michigan students who protested against apartheid South Africa. When this university wouldn’t hire black professors, it was our students who took over administration buildings. When President Johnson ordered the bombing of North Vietnam, our students — and faculty — united behind the rallying cry of “Not in our name.” With such a powerful precedent before us, how then can we be silent today?

These are powerful times we live in. Who could have ever imagined that a black man with a middle name of Hussein would become President? Let us draw strength from the symbolism of that moment and draw the courage to speak up for our convictions, to turn our attention beyond our problem sets and our papers and our classes. Let it not be said that the students at this great institution, the leaders of the future, were deaf to the pleas of suffering Gazans. Let it not be said that we considered their plight “irrelevant.”

Hamdan Yousuf is a Michigan Student Assembly representative from the School of Public Health.

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