During the Undergraduate Council of Students’ general body meeting Wednesday evening, student coalition Brown Divest gave a presentation to request that the council add a referendum to the UCS ballot for the upcoming March elections.
While the official wording has yet to be finalized, the group’s proposed referendum would likely ask students whether they want the University to “divest from companies that profit from Israeli human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories,” according to a slide from the coalition’s PowerPoint presentation. The referendum would also call for greater financial transparency from the University. UCS will vote on whether to include the referendum on its ballot during next Wednesday’s general body meeting.
“We as Brown students have, for a long time, been focused on divestment, on political action in general,” said Brown Divest member Noah Mlyn ’20. “We are part of a long history of generations of Brown students who have recognized that money is always political, and that we as students have the power to push the administration and the Brown Corporation to hold themselves to higher moral standards.”
The coalition shared a list of criteria to describe companies from which the University should divest during their presentation to UCS. The targeted corporations include those that contribute to the maintenance and expansion of the Israeli military occupation, Israeli settlements and the Israeli West Bank separation barrier, in addition to those that contribute to violent acts against Palestinian and Israeli civilians.
According to Brown Divest, it is possible that the University has invested in at least nine companies that meet their criteria for divestment. The University’s financial investments are not public.
President Christina Paxson P’19 previously rejected a proposed resolution brought to the Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies from a 2013 Brown Divest campaign, which sought greater transparency over the University’s financial connections with corporations involved with the Israel/Palestine conflict. ACCRIP “considers issues of ethical and moral responsibility” in the University’s investment policies, according to its website.
ACCRIP is “not a representative committee, so it was a bit easier, we think, for the president to reject it,” said a Brown Divest member who requested anonymity out of fear of personal repercussions. “Whereas if we get a referendum representing the whole undergraduate population, we think that has more sway.”
But a UCS referendum would not oblige the University to any action, said election board co-chair Kathryn Stack ’19.
Calls for divestment are not without precedent as previous student activism includes rallies for divestment from companies invested in apartheid in South Africa in 1987, companies in the tobacco manufacturing industry in 2003 and companies facilitating genocide by the Sudanese government in Darfur in 2012, The Herald previously reported.
“Divestment does have a rich history at Brown,” Mlyn said. “It has worked in the past, and it is a very important part of our history.”
“We have the opportunity to make a real impact because we’re making a bold and brave political declaration,” Mlyn said. “We’re actually making real change by changing the conversation, not only on campus, but in the country,” in passing a referendum.
Other UCS announcements included the continuation of the Admissions Committee, which looks at how to support first-generation and low-income students, as well as the continuation of UCS’s office hours held on the first of each month.
Clarification: An earlier version of this article included a photo of Election Board Co-Chairs Kathryn Stack ’19 and Katie Barry '19 with the caption "UCS members led a meeting Wednesday night, which included a presentation from Brown Divest and discussions over the continuation of the Council's office hours." It is important to note that neither Barry nor Stack are involved with Brown Divest. The Herald has removed the photo due to concerns of personal repercussions. The Herald regrets the error.