Darfur debate

"What do we want?" shouted Michael Pareles, '07, bullhorn in hand. "Divestment!" responded the crowd of about 50 people, mostly students. "When do we want it?" "Now!" Tuesday afternoon the U of C's chapter of Students Take Action Now: Darfur (STAND) held a rally in the center of the quads. Donning bright green armbands, the crowd marched toward the Administration Building. In silence, students walked up one by one to post photographs of Darfur victims on black posterboard taped to the building's doors. "This is but a small memorial," Pareles said, then encouraged the protesters to visit the group's Web site and sign a petition urging the University to divest from companies that do business with the Sudanese government.

According to the Sudan Divestment Task Force Web site, created by activist group Genocide Intervention Network, more than 20 colleges and universities (pdf) have divested, including Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and the University of California system, as well as several states and cities. Typical targets for divestment, among others, include Chinese oil companies such as the China National Petroleum Corporation and Sinopec.

Chicago’s investment policies, guided by the 1967 Kalven Report (pdf), suggest neutrality, but STAND members point to a passage stating, “In the exceptional instance,” the University’s corporate activities “may appear so incompatible with paramount social values as to require careful assessment of the consequences.” They cite past University decisions, such as requiring sweatshop-free labor for University of Chicago Bookstore clothing and removing a Taco Bell franchise from Hutch Commons after students protested against unfair labor practices, as proof that the University has made exceptions.

To that end, Pareles and fellow group members Aliza Levine, '09, and Lauren Goldenberg, '08, met with President Zimmer, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives David Greene, and Board of Trustees Chair James Crown on November 7, asking that the University divest from all companies supporting the Sudanese government. The students emphasized the symbolic weight of divestment and argued the University could be a model for other schools and organizations. Divestment is important, Goldenberg said in an interview, because “it is the only act the University can do right now.”

Since the meeting, Pareles said, he and other STAND members have sent Crown information on how divestment might affect the Sudanese government and how divestment compares to diplomatic action and humanitarian aid. According to Greene, quoted in the November 10 Maroon, the meeting “was intended to be part of an ongoing discussion of the issues.” Meanwhile STAND waits, bullhorn in hand.

Jenny Fisher, '07

Genocide_thumb.jpg Posters2_thumb.jpg 2Students_photos_thumb.jpg

Photos (left to right): Last Tuesday Levine (right) and Rebecca Abraham, '08, chalked a message to President Zimmer in front of the Administration Building; protesters brought handwritten signs to the rally; students taped photos to the building.

November 29, 2006