WASHINGTON - Charges of human rights abuses in China are no secret. A recent UN report states the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) treatment of Uyghur and other minorities could classify as "crimes against humanity."
While official Washington grapples with a response to these atrocities, a group of college students taking on the CCP is getting attention. The mission of this student-led network is simple and direct: remove the influence of the Chinese Communist Party from American college campuses.
"The CCP isn't content to have total control over speech and thought in its own territory, it also wants to export its system of government abroad and our universities are among its top targets, young people in particular," said John Metz, president of the Athenai Institute.
Metz launched this campaign to educate students on the threat and help free academia from the CCP agenda.
"We're asking universities to do three things. Stop taking money from the CCP and its proxies. Stop investing in companies linked to the worst of the Chinese government's human rights abuses, and disclose any and all financial entanglements with entities in the People's Republic of China," Metz told CBN News.
In 2021, the Catholic University of America became the first school to commit to auditing its endowment for links to companies tied to China and its human rights abuses. Since then, Athenai chapters have spread to campuses nationwide.
"Students have been the ones who have been willing to say, 'Our universities shouldn't be taking millions of dollars from a government that's committing genocide at home, and seeking to silence free speech here in the U.S.,'" Metz said.
For years, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Spalding has sounded the alarm about China's efforts to expand its system of government internationally. His main point being, it's not just academia that needs to break ties.
"They have so become a part of our business, and financial, and academic, and political systems, that if we don't get the Chinese Communist Party out of the country--that means they cannot have any contact with any university system, any corporation, any financial system, institution, any politician--If we don't decouple," Spalding told CBN News.
"Then we end up dying a slow death, where we lose touch with our principles and values that are established in the Constitution, and slowly begin to lose our democracy," he added.
A recent State Department report found the CCP specifically targets young people in trying to manipulate public opinion. It's a strategy that by influencing the way the next generation thinks, China believes it can prevent them from taking action. The Athenai movement is a sign that strategy has been blunted with students already on the front lines fighting to preserve democracy.