ASM unanimously approves contentious divestment proposal to mixed reactions from campus

Student council also approved resolution calling for community control of police

, The Badger Herald, Apr 27, 2017

Peyton David/The Badger Herald

After five hours of debate and nearly 50 people appearing before open forum, the University of Wisconsin Associated Students of Madison unanimously approved the contentious divestment proposal.

The heated resolution resulted in a 24-0-2 vote Wednesday evening.

Originally introduced in a March 29 meeting, the proposal was tabled indefinitely after six hours of debate and more than 60 people appearing before an open forum.

In the original resolution, Jewish students expressed in the March 29 open forum that they felt targeted since the legislation called to divest from several Israeli companies. To reflect the need of divesting from corporations and to keep from alienating Jewish students, ASM later amended the new legislation to focus on ending UW’s support of corporations that profit from human rights violations.

The amended resolution highlights divesting from banks and private prisons that profit off of minority oppression and rebuke corporations that engage in resource extraction from indigenous lands without consent, harming indigenous people’s way of life, divesting from fossil corporations, border walls and arms manufacturers.

ASM also requested transparency from the UW Foundation $3.1 billion investment portfolio.

Numerous students who participated in the Wednesday open forum said this new legislation was a “watered down” version of the original, but were pleased the focus shifted onto corporations, rather than a specific country.

Rep. Katrina Morrison said the reason for “watering down” the resolution is because ASM wanted to get a piece of legislation out there that would bring awareness to human rights abuses.

“[ASM] listened to and heard from the communities of color and marginalized students, and they told us one page wasn’t enough and that [ASM] had to do more,” Morrison said. “We couldn’t water down their struggles and so that’s when we decided it would be right to add in language to enhance the resolution [after the proposed resolution].”

Yogev Ben-Yitschak, an Israeli student and representative from Badgers United Against Hate, said the group — which was formed to oppose divestment on campus — supported the newly amended resolution which focused solely on corporations.

Thanking the authors of the new resolution, Ben-Yitschak said he is grateful they considered their concerns as members of the Jewish community and students.

“Badgers United will not oppose this resolution as written,” Ben-Yitschak said. “We look forward to working together with you toward a more ethical, informed and inclusive campus.”

Other students, however, were displeased with the shortening of the resolution.

Zahiah Hammad, a Palestinian student, said she was told not to speak at open forum, and not to discuss the “injustices done to her people.”

“Why do I have to hide my identity behind this one page legislation that makes sure not to disrupt the comfort of my oppressor?” Hammad said. “[This resolution] allows my oppressors to keep getting invested by my university that directly affects my needs as a human.”

As open forum ended and the legislation went up for debate with the student council, members of the body began adding new amendments to reflect its original form.

ASM also introduced the amendment to include names of specific Israeli companies, among others. The amendment immediately sparked anger from Jewish members of the body, prompting two student council members to walk out from the meeting.

One of the members, Rep. Ariela Rivkin said Jewish students were left out of the resolution because they were under the impression that the body would focus on corporations, rather than Israel.

“This is now the second time the Jewish community has been excluded,” Rivkin said. “This is because [ASM] members … knew full well that there would be amendments and [the student body] did not know that — and that is undemocratic.”

After the legislation passed, UW released a statement condemning the vote.

In the statement, the administration said they are independent of ASM, and their actions do not control UW’s policies or practices. They also said they are “concerned” the vote would violate a ruling of the Student Judiciary, where Jewish members of ASM already raised this issue and expressed concerns the process was “undemocratic” and “not transparent.”

“UW values and welcomes members of all faiths and identities,” the statement said. “We have heard clearly from the Jewish community how targeted they feel by the actions of the last month. Chancellor [Rebecca] Blank has made clear her opposition to the concept of BDS and academic boycotts.”

UW Hillel, one of the largest Jewish organizations on campus, called the meeting an “utter sham.”

Rep. Omer Arain said his hope is that the administration sees the resolution, the student support behind it and is cognizant of what students are concerned about.

Along with the divestment proposal, ASM also voted unanimously to approve a resolution that asks the UW Police Department to create a community accountability board to review policies and procedures of UWPD that “discriminate against people of color.”

This board calls for community control of the police in hopes of holding UWPD accountable for their actions.

UWPD issued a statement calling the timing of this legislation “disappointing” given UWPD’s history of “openness and willingness to listen to feedback and make changes.”

The UWPD statement also pointed to newly sworn in Chief Kristen Roman’s “open door policy,” and her ongoing efforts to respond to community concerns, such as the Feb. 27 crime warning where UWPD sent out an alert with pictures of two black suspects.

“We look forward to working with the incoming ASM leadership this fall and we encourage those new members to reach out to our department so we can work together on these and other important issues,” the UWPD statement said.