May 28, 2006
Eric Reeves, professor-turned-activist, you have marshaled a citizens' army to fight genocide in Sudan. You started teaching Renaissance literature at Smith College in 1979. In 1999, however, you came to understand the magnitude of the human atrocities occurring in Sudan--a nation torn by civil war since the early 1980s. Since then, your outspoken criticism of the Sudanese government and indifference around the globe have provided one of the few glimmers of hope for a war-ravaged people.
Your story is testimony to the power of the modern global citizen. As one concerned person hoping to put an end to a tragedy unfolding halfway around the world, the odds were against you. You first taught yourself everything you could about the forces at play in Sudan. You conducted your own distillation and analysis of all the data you could find, calculating death tolls and creating news briefs with a greater degree of accuracy than any other agency had managed. You have used every means possible to spread the word: email, the Web, telephone, letters, and face-to-face meetings with concerned citizens, the media, corporations, and government officials. You have spoken widely and written editorials. You testified before Congress. You took an unpaid leave from Smith and financed your efforts by taking out a loan on your house. Faster than anyone could have predicted, you built an alliance of believers.
You were the first to label the atrocities in Sudan a "genocide," a term that at first drew criticism but was ultimately adopted by the U.S. government and the international community. You have compelled international corporations involved in Sudan to change course; you have motivated the media around the world to provide coverage; and you have convinced governments to take action. The recent negotiation to stop the bloodshed in Darfur might never have occurred were it not for your efforts.
Professor Reeves, when others turned the other way, you took matters into your own hands. Even more laudable is that you have undertaken these efforts while fighting your own personal battle against leukemia. Your emergence as one of the foremost experts and effective advocates on the crisis in Sudan shows how one engaged citizen who is willing to commit his intellect, energy, and voice can indeed change the world. It is thus with great honor that I confer upon you the degree doctor of humane letters, honoris causa.
Honorary Degree Recipient Address
By Eric Reeves