Members and supporters of the University’s Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) chapter staged a protest and later stormed President Robert Zimmer’s office late last quarter as part of an ongoing campaign to reverse a February 2 Board of Trustees decision not to divest from companies doing business in Darfur, Sudan.
The latest protest specifically criticized the board’s $200,000 Darfur Action and Education Fund established as part of the decision against divestment.
About 100 people gathered on Bartlett Quad for the March 7 protest, which began with STAND organizers and guest speakers addressing the crowd before marching to Zimmer’s office on the fifth floor of the Administration building.
“Even though divestment is a long-term strategy, one of the things I want you to take to this administration is that the Sudanese government has a long history of what we call…‘Kill the slave by the slave,’” said Anne Bartlett, director of the Darfur Centre for Human Rights in London. “This is not a one-off. The Sudanese government has had years of practice at this, and unless we send that message to them, they are not going to change.”
Paul Robeson Ford, a second-year theology graduate student in the Divinity School, focused on the University’s commitment to academic freedom with regard to social issues. “The University can’t hide behind the veil of intellectual inquiry,” he said, adding that “we refuse to wash our hands” of genocide by not divesting from Sudan.
After the speeches, STAND cochair and fourth-year Mike Pareles led the crowd to the Administration building, where the protesters flooded the lobby of Zimmer’s fifth-floor office and chanted “We want Zimmer.” Deputy Dean of Students Martina Munsters informed Pareles that neither Zimmer nor Vice President for Strategic Initiatives David Greene was in his office, and University Police officers arrived at the scene to disperse the crowd.
“We’ve made our point, and we’re not ready to get arrested yet,” Pareles told supporters. Before ending the protest, he emptied a paper bag full of pennies on the lobby receptionist’s desk. “This is what we think about their $200,000,” Pareles said, referring to the Darfur fund.
As protesters left the building, Pareles apologized to the receptionist for having to experience the brunt of the protest.
After the event, Bartlett said in an interview that divestment proponents could approach the Darfur situation from a broader angle.
“Divestment is part of the strategy, but it’s not everything,” she said. “There are other routes that we can go down if one avenue doesn’t work,” Bartlett said, adding that she does not support “blanket divestment” as an effective strategy for the war-torn region.
These other routes, which include holding conferences and increasing education about the situation in Darfur, would be effective in addition to divestment, not instead of divestment, Pareles said. “They are, in themselves, not as effective as divestment,” he added.
Greene, who has discussed the divestment issue with STAND in several meetings, echoed those sentiments. He said he has told pro-divestment students that there are different kinds of venues for decision-making that involve “consultation, not formal committee structures.”
Greene said he was unaware of STAND’s disapproval of the Darfur fund. “I don’t think there’s been any issue there that I know of,” he said.
Commenting on last quarter’s protest outside his and the president’s office, Greene said it did not help constructively address the important issues at hand. “That’s not really a moment for engagement,” he said, referring to the demonstration. “That’s more of a statement.”�