Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Board of Trustees Decide Against Divestment Proposal

In light of recent events in Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Whitman Students for Justice in Palestine (WSJP) and the Student Action Coalition (SAC) requested the Board of Trustees of Whitman College divest from various companies.

The proposal entitled Proposal for the Immediate Divestment from Military Manufacturers was submitted on Nov. 29, 2023, and called for the divestment from various technology, military and security companies as well as provided context behind the proposition. 

“Whitman College’s Students for Justice in Palestine (WSJP) chapter and the Student Action Coalition (SAC) are demanding immediate action to begin the process of divestment from companies that manufacture arms, aid the security apparatus that governments around the world use to harm oppressed peoples, aid in the physical destruction of communities and provide technology services to apartheid states like Israel,” the proposal said. 

The College’s current divestment policy states Whitman employees, students and alumni can propose to divest from investments within the endowment whose business practices do not align with the basic values of the College. The Board can then consider the proposal if it meets a set number of conditions. A divestment decision requires a two-thirds vote of approval from the board in order to be passed.

The Board of Trustees held a special meeting on Jan. 3, 2024, to review the proposal. Seven members of WSJP and SAC attended the meeting to present their proposal and the final decision on the divestment was communicated via email to the Whitman community by Chair Joe Davis on Jan. 9, 2024. 

“Having carefully reviewed the proposal before us, and considering our duty to maintain the endowment in perpetuity and the divestment policy criteria, the majority of Trustees voted against the proposal to divest from 109 technology, defense, transportation and construction companies,” the email read. 

The statement outlines four main reasons as to why The Board chose not to divest. First, they acknowledge the suffering caused by the conflict but disagree that investing in certain companies contributes to this. The divestment proposal, seen by some as a non-violent way to support Palestinians, is criticized for potentially being antisemitic as it holds Israel to unique standards. 

Second, The Board doubts the effectiveness of divesting from the 109 companies (which provide a broad range of products, not just military materiel) in influencing their behavior or benefiting Palestinian safety. 

Third, the College community is deeply divided on this issue, with no clear consensus supporting the divestment proposal. 

Lastly, they state that the College’s investment in the companies mentioned is minimal and mostly indirect, and divesting could risk the endowment’s diversification and performance due to the number of companies and industries involved.

In an interview with The Wire, sophomore WSJP members Tuma Mohamed and senior Simone Calero discussed how they felt about the proposal rejection. 

“One of the things that we talked about going into it was that even the proposal [was] rejected, at least it meant we were taking a big step. Future activists in the coming years have something to work off of [and] The Board knows that this is something that people care about enough to occupy [Memorial Hall], enough to push The Board for an emergency meeting,” Calero said. 

In an email to The Wire, Davis discussed how The Board took into account the voices and opinions of the Whitman community before making their final decision. 

“It was critical for us to listen carefully to different perspectives and to ensure that each voice was considered as part of the decision-making process. We held virtual meetings with different student groups and solicited feedback via email from the campus community and read each one of them carefully,” Davis said. 

In an email to The Wire, Whitman College President Sarah Bolton echoed similar sentiments. 

“In the months prior to the divestment decision, college administrators, including myself, spent many hours meeting with students to listen to their concerns, discuss Whitman’s investment policies and holdings and facilitate conversations between students and The Board. Students’ concerns were important to us every step of the way, and although the decision is not what many students hoped, they were heard by their peers and college leaders, as well as by the trustees,” Bolton said.

Mohamed said it is important to have a sense of political and social awareness and not remain indifferent to the injustices faced by others. 

“And Allegria [Iteka] said it during one of the first walkouts last semester. [She] said that she never wants to be the kind of person who isn’t disturbed by genocide. And who isn’t moved in some way to act … I think one thing that activism has done, for me at least, is made me feel like a human being, like a person. The things that I do and say on a daily basis are tied to bigger things, and tied not only to others through my struggle, but also through the things that I love” Mohamed said. 

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), describes themselves as the “leading anti-hate organization in the world.” Their mission statement is “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”

The ADL opposes boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) movements against the state of Israel, seeing these movements as promoting the ostracization and vilification of Zionist and Jewish students.

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) was the most active anti-Israel group on campus in the United States,” a 2021 statement by the ADL read. “The group organizes lectures, rallies, BDS resolutions and petitions; disseminates propaganda via its social media accounts and campus newspapers; and more. A significant segment of SJP’s rhetoric is combative and inflammatory, and some incorporates antisemitic tropes.”

The Board’s decision to reject the proposal continues the ongoing conversation around divestment on campus and the complexities of balancing financial pragmatism and ethical concerns around institutional investments. 

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