USF students for divestment meet with university foundation

05/06/14 Seán Kinane
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Tags: USF, BDS, Palestine, Israel, SJP at USF


In Tampa people rally in solidarity with Gaza Freedom Flotilla

photo by Sean Kinane, WMNF 2010

University of South Florida students who are leading a drive to get the school to divest from companies profiting off the Israeli occupation of Palestine met yesterday afternoon with some members of the USF Foundation.

Tuesday WMNF spoke with a member of Students for Justice in Palestine at USF, Malak Fakhoury.

"We had a meeting with the USF Foundation in order to approach them about the demand for divestment that has arisen on campus over the past couple of months. As you know, we had a petition with over 10,000 signatures clearly asking the Board of Trustees to divest any moneys that they've put into companies complicit in human rights violations. So after accumulating signatures that account for 25%, approximately 1/4 of the student body we felt we were strong enough to approach them with a legitimate concern expressed by individuals for them to listen to us."

How did that meeting go? Were they receptive?

"They () as a meeting for gathering information from us so they didn't have many questions because they were just kind of objectively taking in whatever we were presenting. They said so long as we were following up with additional information that we mentioned to them they'll give it to their investment managers to look into and they'll do further research of their own. So it wasn't a meeting where we could measure the progress of any success because it takes gradual steps to achieve anything real in this regard but it was definitely a success to speak to them. We were kind of disappointed in the dynamics of how they expressed any receptiveness or discontent because there was really no emotion so it's hard to judge what they were thinking. We were shocked, honestly, that the university didn't have an investment screen for the way they were going to funnel their money. Also, when we approached them and told them that 10,000 students are asking for this we were kind of disappointed that they didn't express any want to fulfill such a desire or regret at not having previously done so."

You said they wanted more information, what kind of things were they interested in hearing more about?

"A lot of our presentation had to do with the style and success of other universities that had introduced this movement of divestment because we want to show them that we're not even though we're pushing this at USF, we're not alone in this movement and it's been introduced at multiple campuses in America and internationally. Most prominent among the group are Yale, Harvard, and Stanford. All of these top ranking universities have what are called 'responsible investment committees'. So when we mentioned that to them they seemed interested. We told them there's a list of 41 universities, different institutions that have implemented this idea of ethical investing. When they heard that they asked for a list and we said that we would send them the list and we have the statistics of the endowment rate in case they think like maybe the endowment we're working with isn't significant enough. We've had universities on that list of 41 who have smaller endowments and ones who have bigger endowments so it's not so much an issue of the money, more of the principle at hand. So we said that we would send them the list of the other universities and just how we had accumulated our information from the endowment research that we had conducted. Also they wanted a copy of our presentation because they commented on our professionalism. They said they were very impressed by how we carried ourselves and presented our message so they asked for a copy of it so that they could be more well-versed in explaining it to the other members."

What's the next step, where do you go from here?

"We're going to continue applying the pressure of social media and continuing to demand for divestment as we've shown the importance of our human rights campaign and that these companies need to be divested from because people need to be chosen over profit. So even though it's summer and they may think that we'll take a more relaxed tone, we're not prepared to back down in the least. We're ready to increase our efforts and just keep pushing for the divestment to take place."

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