The inauguration of University President Steven Knapp has rekindled the hopes of students who wish to see more transparency in exactly how our tuition money is being spent. With a new resolution coming out of the Student Association concerning the process of divestment, such a goal seems within reach. As perhaps one of the most politically active campuses in the nation, GW is long overdue in taking the policy initiative to minimize its effects overseas.
Before I go any further I want to say that I am not a member of GW Students Taking Action Now: Darfur or Divest: GW. I was not among those individuals sitting at the inauguration in silent protest, although I do applaud such action. I am writing simply as a student that is concerned that my tuition money could be going to companies that are feeding conflict overseas. It is not entirely clear to me whether there is blood on my hands for attending GW, and that needs to change. Even if GW is hesitant to make huge alterations to its financial policies there should be increased transparency in the dealings that the University does have.
The recent history of the idea of divestment at GW began in 2006 with the student group GW STAND leading a coalition of student organizations in proposing a divestment policy for GW. This was met with a harsh reaction from the University, which refused to begin divestment because of claims that it was too complex a process. In compensation for student concerns, former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg supported the development of the group Banaa: Student Educational Empowerment Network, a GW-based organization that works to helps students from Darfur seek an education in the United States. This was a good move but the problem of divestment still remains.
A scholarship fund is nice but it is time for GW to invest its energies in divestment. In the Dec. 3 issue of The Hatchet, Donald Lindsey, GW’s chief investment officer, came out against a divestment policy. In the article he asks the question, “One group can say genocide, but how do you say no to something important to someone else?” This makes no sense to me. Is the argument that because genocide may not be a priority of all students that it should just be ignored? This assumption goes against the very foundation of what students are being taught in ethics and history classes right here on campus. Also, there are no current SA resolutions coming out concerning divestment for other projects, showing a commitment by the student body to this cause in particular.
Lindsey also concludes that divestment would be an extremely difficult undertaking that would have little more than a symbolic effect on the issue. Of course this is going to be a difficult process but that detracts nothing from our moral obligation as a globally conscious institution to commit to it. Even if it is just symbolic, symbolic acts hold power as well. If a man holding grocery bags could capture the attention of the world by being a human barrier in Tiananmen Square, then an establishment with $1.2 billion at its disposal should be able to significantly impact the waves of change.
More importantly as STAND points out, the historical precedent is that divestment would not be a merely symbolic act. Most of the worst offenders that would lose investment money are oil companies. Currently 70 to 80 percent of Sudan’s oil revenues go toward military funding. Several huge corporations have significantly changed policy in dealing with Sudan, Rolls Royce, Siemens and Schlumberger to name a few. Already 47 universities, 23 states, 10 cities and eight countries have all initiated divestment policies. Contrary to what Lindsey says, it is arrogant on GW’s part to claim these policies don’t work.
A lot can be said about GW in terms of its success as a globally conscious institute. From Knapp we have already seen interest in making GW an agent of change, reigniting the hope of a student body. It’s now up to the administration to direct this passion toward divestment and not excuses.
The writer, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.