Late last month, after a lengthy and impassioned debate, the Wesleyan Student Assembly approved a resolution denouncing such investments. Wesleyan’s portfolio includes holdings in Raytheon and General Dynamics.
To junior Erik Rosenberg, a member of Students For Ending the War in Iraq, it boils down to one question: “Can we really be comfortable with educating ourselves with money that was made through violence?”
But other students expressed concern about the financial ramifications of divestiture, a concern Rosenberg dismissed.
Others say the war is a complicated issue and divestment would be a symbolic move, at best. “Divestment is such a blunt tool,” said Jon Golden, a junior and student assembly representative from suburban Philadelphia.
Golden says he doesn’t support the war and didn’t vote for President Bush. “I think the war has been a foreign policy debacle,” he said. “But some people think if you oppose the war, if you oppose the Bush administration, then divestment is the answer. I think there is a more nuanced argument to be made.”
College activists have used divestment in the past as a mechanism to force social change. The most notable example is the anti-apartheid movement that began in the late 1970s. Hundreds of colleges and universities, including Wesleyan, unloaded stock in companies that did business with the apartheid government in South Africa.
Since then, Wesleyan has instituted a number of changes to hold corporations accountable and make sure the university’s voice is heard, said Justin Harmon, vice president for public affairs.
“Our approach has been to try and engage companies if there are issues in terms of their corporate behavior … that are of concern to the campus community,” Harmon said. “There is a sense that engagement and dialogue could be a constructive mechanism and potentially more powerful than the symbolic act of divestiture.”
Administrators say they are unsure of how many students back divestiture. A rally last week drew about 30 supporters, though Rosenberg said more than 600 signed a petition supporting the idea.
“Next year, we’re going to try to get the larger Wesleyan community involved,” he said. “We definitely have a long way to go.”
Rosenberg said he has yet to broach the issue with incoming President Michael Roth, but he believes Roth will be supportive. “I think he really does see students as agents of change, not just in our own community but in the national community and international community,” he said.
After all, Roth is no stranger to such activism: In 1977, as a student at Wesleyan, he slept in the president’s office, according to an article by Lindsay Ceballos in the May 7 edition of the Wesleyan Argus. He was protesting the university’s investment in companies that did business with South Africa.