Last month, for the third time in two years, the student senate at Loyola University in Chicago passed a divestment resolution. The resolution, authored by Loyola Divest, a coalition of student groups and activists, calls on the university to pull its investments in four corporations that profit from the violations of Palestinians’ rights: Caterpillar, United Technologies, Raytheon and Valero.
Twice before, the student government president vetoed the resolution under pressure from the campus administration.
Campus administrators placed enormous pressure on Flavio Bravo, this year’s student body president, to veto for a third time.
But after the third resolution was passed on 24 March, the current student government president has refused to bow to administration pressure.
For the first time in his fourteen years in office, Loyola University President Father Michael Garanzini wrote an open letter to the student body. In his letter, he admonished the divestment campaign. “The University is not interested in taking up the matter of divestment in this instance,” Garanzini stated.
In response, Bravo said that he anticipated “tension” within the student body and the media reports around the divestment resolution, but he had “only witnessed it within our own university’s administration.”
Bravo added that “with this measure that has now passed three times, the university must now face the reality that this is what the students want and what they believe is best.”
“Racialized, derogatory language”
Speaking to The Electronic Intifada in a recent interview, Loyola Students for Justice in Palestine member Nadine Darwish said that the reaction by university administrators to divestment passing has been shocking.
Top university officials used “racialized, derogatory language” to admonish last year’s divestment resolutions, she said.
“They way they described us was very alienating,” Darwish explained.
On 1 April, students with Loyola Divest wrote an open letter to Garanzini, expressing their “grave disappointment” toward the “condescending nature” of his letter.
Students sharply criticized Garanzini’s total silence on “issues of racism, sexual assault, access to education, the exclusion of Queer communities on campus, and worker justice” over his fourteen-year tenure as university president.
“Yet … just before President Bravo was to announce his signing of the measure, you published a letter in dissent,” the letter continued. “You chose this moment to target a campaign spearheaded by a diverse group of student organizations and voices, to speak out and undermine the voices of the Loyola Student Body.”
The letter “spread like wildfire,” Darwish said. Because of the growing outrage by faculty and students to Garanzini’s letter, sparking more discussion and support of Palestinians’ rights through this divestment resolution, she said that “he helped us more than he hurt us, actually.”
Darwish told The Electronic Intifada that the university has severely restricted SJP’s access to funding and resources as punishment for peacefully challenging Israel-aligned students who were promoting the discriminatory Birthright Israel program last year.
However, despite the administrative punishments, pressure and lack of funding, Darwish said that passing divestment a third time “just shows how persevering and resilient we are against administrative backlash.”
SJP and allied groups collected 1,300 signatures from students along with endorsements from 21 student groups in support of a divestment resolution. They held falafel sales to raise funds for their campaigning strategies in lieu of access to resources from the university.
Darwish said that SJP and Loyola Divest are now preparing to present the resolution to the board of trustees and make their case for the implementation of divestment.
Listen to the interview with Nadine Darwish via the media player above.