Updated with comments from SAFE.
University of Michigan Central Student Government President Anushka Sarkar, an LSA senior, signed the assembly’s resolution AR 7-019 that calls for the University to investigate possible divestment from companies that violate Palestinian human rights.
In a secret ballot vote last Wednesday morning at CSG’s meeting, the #UMDivest movement passed for the first time on the University’s Ann Arbor campus with 23 votes in favor, 17 votes against and 5 abstentions. The resolution’s passage, and the tumultuous history of the #UM Divest movement, has sparked action from students on both sides of the issue. Last Wednesday’s decision has since further divided the campus.
In a statement released Tuesday night, Sarkar expanded on her personal beliefs that the University should not invest in companies allegedly endangering the lives of Palestinians.
“I believe the intent of this resolution is to elevate a marginalized community’s voice, voices that have been muffled and diluted, year after year,” Sarkar wrote. “I believe the students who advocate for the investigation of companies in which the University of Michigan is invested that are tied to the violation of Palestinian human rights do so because they believe in advocating for what is just. I believe the authors and advocates of this resolution do not intend to target Jewish people, and I do not believe that criticism of Israel is inherently anti-Semitic.”
Sarkar outlined three specific points in her statement: First, she wrote she does not believe the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions Movement is completely distinct from advocacy for divestment; second, Sarkar said the refusal to allow Prof. Victor Lieberman to speak at last week’s meeting has since activated uncontextualized dialogue about the issue; and third, Sarkar wrote there is a necessity to address the fact that disagreement does not mean silencing.
“Ultimately, the spirit of this resolution is to elevate the voices of students who believe in protecting Palestinian human rights,” Sarkar wrote. “The spirit of the resolution embodies the University of Michigan’s mission statement — to challenge the present — and the University’s vision statement, which specifically says that we must dedicate ourselves to responsible stewardship of financial resources.”
Sarkar ended her letter noting she finds the assembly’s request to be reasonable.
“It is time for this issue to be elevated to the Board of Regents, regardless of the decision that it chooses to make on this question; in coming years, I am hopeful that the advocacy around this issue will continue to grow inclusively under the framework of community-building and finding common ground,” Sarkar wrote.
On Monday evening, the University of Michigan chapter of SAFE met with E. Royster Harper, vice president for Student Life, and Laura Blake Jones, dean of students, for a dialogue and conversation. Approximately 20 students were in attendance to discuss relevant campus climate and safety concerns, as well as the recently passed #UMDivest resolution.
The resolution passed for the first time in the University’s Ann Arbor campus history last Tuesday, and the results have been met with intense emotions across campus.
In an interview with the Daily, Harper explained her own thoughts on the resolution, and stated administration would be continuing their policies in making investment decisions based on financial reasonings. Harper also mentioned efforts from the administration in keeping targeted communities safe.
“We have Jewish students that are worried about their safety; we have Muslim and Arab students that are worried about their safety,” Harper said. “So we have a pretty active Department of Public Safety right now trying to be attuned to and mindful of this, and this conversation in the context of a national conversation.”
The administrators present at Monday’s dialogue declined to comment on specificities of the event. The Daily did not attend the meeting due to the personal nature of the event, but spoke to several student attendees afterwards.
LSA senior Andrea Sahouri attended the dialogue, and stated one of the most important aspects of the conversation was the way it exposed students to University officials that are open to hearing concerns, specifically for those students who may be feeling the administration is not intimately connected to conversation among the student body.
“I think the most important part of the meeting as a whole was letting the students of SAFE, and the community that SAFE brings together, letting them know that administration is available to them,” she said. “Throughout my whole college career I never felt comfortable to contact administration because I didn’t know that they were there for us.”
LSA senior Haleemah Aqel echoed similar sentiments towards the administrations’ presence, but also spoke of the unbiased nature under which the administrators confirmed they will be taking action.
“The thing that they emphasized is they obviously can’t take sides, which is obviously understandable, but just showing that if we ever need… to go to them or talk to them about anything that they’re there for us as students,” she said.
Another main point of discussion was safety concerns among students following #UMDivest.
While parts of the resolution were addressed, the conversation mostly focused on overall concerns of the students present, with administration reiterating the importance of students standing up for their own beliefs and not letting others take away this voice.
“At the end of the day they left us with the message that people are never going to agree with you all the time,” Sahouri said. “Sometimes you just have to really keep fighting for what you believe in and then focus your efforts on continuing that fight rather than focusing your efforts on people who are trying to bring you down.”
Students in opposition to the resolution were present at the dialogue, according to Sahouri. These students were not asked to leave the room, as Sahouri stated the SAFE members are open to others listening to their concerns.
While some students, according to Sahouri, feel discouraged the administration cannot take any immediate tangible action in solving marginalization on campus, she highlighted the opportunity to speak with administration was helpful, and she hopes such dialogues will continue in the future so as to affirm the University’s presence in hearing student concerns.
“I just thought it was cathartic to speak with someone who’s not in your own community about how you’re feeling,” Sahouri said. “It just feels like you’re finally being listened to.”
Outside of CSG, students in other organizations such as the Black Student Union and Latinx Alliance for Community Action, Support and Advocacy have supported the #UMDivest resolution.
This comes in contrast to a statement released by University of Michigan Hillel on Tuesday, in which members expressed their disagreement with the resolution.
Joshua Blum, chair of Hillel’s Governing Board and an LSA senior, sent the statement along with several other members of the board.
“While there is a diversity of thought toward Israel within our community, many students were united in feeling hurt by the rhetoric used to address the one Jewish State and our community,” the statement reads. “Anti-Semitism manifests itself in many different ways. Some forms of anti-Semitism are more obvious such as Nazi marches, painted swastikas, and alt-Right chants. Contemporary anti-Semitism takes the form of subtle remarks, micro-aggressions, and reinforcing negative stereotypes of the Jewish community. We saw many of these injustices in Tuesday night’s meeting.”
The statement also touched on the denial of Lieberman’s presence calling it “silencing”.
“When Jewish representatives spoke about their experiences with anti-Semitism and anti-Israel rhetoric, their concerns were dismissed,” the statement from Hillel reads. “Proponents of Divestment held up ‘silencing’ signs each time they heard a statement they disagreed with. The hypocrisy of silencing others while claiming to be silenced themselves, is antithetical to Michigan’s value of the free exchange of ideas. All students’ perspectives and identities are valid and should not be selectively silenced.”
The University has yet to release any action with regard to the resolution’s passing, but University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald noted last Thursday that the University’s investment portfolio must be diversified to best assist the University in its overall educational missions.
“The University’s longstanding policy is to shield the endowment from political pressures and to base our investment decisions solely on financial factors such as risk and return,” his statement reads. “This approach has been underscored consistently by university leaders, including the Board of Regents, most recently in December 2015. We do not anticipate a change in this approach or the creation of a committee.”