Divestment referendum would marginalize part of the student body

Students at GW talk about everything from campus issues to national politics, but in the last month, an international conflict has been dominating campus dialogue.

Two weeks ago, the Student Association Senate rejected a pro-Palestinian divestment resolution. The resolution, which was rejected by a 14 to 15 vote with one abstention, called for the University to divest from 10 companies that the proponents of the bill claim are tied to human rights violations in Palestine.

Unsurprisingly, such a politically-charged resolution regarding a hot-button issue like divestment has stirred debate across campus. At the SA meeting, more than 100 students packed the room for more than three hours of public comment.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an incredibly complex issue, and The Hatchet’s editorial board doesn’t believe that a student resolution for divestment is a productive way to address it on a college campus. The resolution and discussion around it has been criticized by some student organizations for being one-sided and anti-Israel, although the supporters disagree. More productive conversations can instead be facilitated by student organizations from both sides of the issue hosting events together.

Divestment efforts at other universities haven’t resulted in any change.

Although senators have the right to hold GW accountable and serve as the voices of the school, a call for divestment would have no major effect. Divestment efforts at other universities haven’t resulted in any change. In 2015, the SA board at the University of California passed a resolution demanding the UC system divest from governments that abuse human rights, including Israel, but the governing board rejected to do so. GW’s student body has also voted in favor of divesting from fossil fuels, but officials announced GW would not divest because it is not part of their investment strategy. If a divestment resolution were to pass, this would act as more of a statement. But if the University does not take any action in response, then it would not be as effective in sending a message about human rights, as proponents would have hoped for.

The student body may pride itself on being the most politically active campus, but this issue has been difficult even for experts who study the region, so students should not be able to make decisions about whether the University should divest. There is also no way to know whether GW even has investments in the 10 companies that supporters of the resolution say are tied to human rights violations against Palestine, since officials have historically kept quiet on details about the University’s investment portfolio.

No matter the outcome of a referendum vote, part of the student body would be marginalized.

Since the vote failed on the senate floor, some senators and student organizations are hoping to propose divestment as a referendum vote in the future. This would allow the entire student body to vote on whether or not they think the University should divest, instead of a small number of senators. Although we acknowledge that a referendum is a better platform to vote on a major issue rather than a resolution, we oppose proposing this particular referendum. No matter the outcome of a referendum vote, part of the student body would be marginalized. And similar to the resolution, this referendum would be more about making a statement than creating any tangible change.

Regardless of the decision to have a referendum vote or not, conversation about the conflict will continue. This is a complicated subject with a lot of history, and many people feel that they have a personal stake in the issue. Therefore, we should give it the best possible space to allow cordial discussion to happen.

Student organizations involved in both sides of the resolution should move forward by collaborating and working together. GW Together, a student organization that formed in opposition of the resolution, and Students for Justice in Palestine, a student organization that promotes awareness of humanitarian and civilian rights in Palestine, should come together to host speakers from both sides for panels and roundtable discussions. Events and discussion around this issue often occur in a bubble, preventing either side from genuinely trying to understand the other. The point of holding these events would not be to change people’s minds, but to further educate them about the conflict and expose them to different perspectives. This could be especially valuable for those in the middle, since it can be an effective way to learn more about the conflict in an objective manner because both sides get their chance to speak. More importantly, dialogue and events will help set a better tone for how conversation about controversial political topics should continue among students on campus.

The SA should not feel a responsibility to tackle large international conflicts.

But these efforts shouldn’t only come from the student organizations – the SA started this conversation with the resolution, and showed where SA members stand on this conflict. For some students invested in this issue, it may be concerning to know that their student representative doesn’t feel the way they do about the resolution. This can distance some students from the SA and potentially erode trust. To some students, it can seem like SA members are taking a political stance, even when they might not want to, because of the inherent political nature of the resolution. Although some students may want the SA to address issues that the student body wants to hear about, the SA should not feel a responsibility to tackle large international conflicts.

Now, the SA needs to win back the confidence and trust of the student body by evaluating how they could have better approached the resolution. The best way to move forward is to refocus on issues – like academics, mental health and dining – that affect students on a more day-to-day basis, where tangible change can be created.

Conversation and learning should constantly be occurring, but some complicated international issues are too big for college students to bring about decisive action. Student groups should be creating a moderated space for students to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but a call for divestment would be a misguided step.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Irene Ly and contributing opinions editor Shwetha Srinivasan, based on discussions with managing director Melissa Holzberg, managing editor Tyler Loveless, sports editor Matt Cullen, copy editor Melissa Schapiro and design editor Anna Skillings.

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