STAND will press trustees, Zimmer on divestment

By Dasha Vinogradsky

Last week, Students Take Action Now: Darfur (STAND) leaders gained headway in their campaign for divestment from Sudan when administrators granted the group permission to present their case for divestment to President Robert Zimmer and Board of Trustees Chairman James Crown on November 7.

The ultimate decision on divestment depends on the Board of Trustees’ approval.

At a meeting earlier in October, administrators said monetary concerns do not play a central role in the University’s decision. The University bases its policy on the 1967 Kalven Report, which dictates how the University will respond to political and social events.

STAND members continued to push their case at Friday’s inauguration of President Zimmer. As Zimmer walked along the procession route from Henry Crown to Rockefeller Chapel, about two dozen protesters lined East 59th Street. They held signs that welcomed Zimmer and urged him to divest, according to fourth-year Mike Pareles, co-head of STAND’s U of C chapter. The STAND signs read, “President Zimmer: Welcome to the U of C” and “Genocide Won’t Wait.”

Some Student Marshals—recipients of the highest academic honor given to undergraduates—wore blue pins saying “U of C: Divest Now, Genocide Won’t Wait” as they walked with Zimmer, and sat in the front row during his speech.

“About half of the Student Marshals wore pins,” said fourth-year Miranda Nelson, a Student Marshal, in an e-mail. “Several of them came up and asked me for them. Clearly, students here don’t want their school investing in Sudan.”

Several professors and presidents who represented other universities and walked with Zimmer voiced their support for the protesters and gave them a thumbs up, according to STAND members Dan Berkovits, a fourth-year, and Clare Johnson, a third-year.

“I felt that this formal situation was an important opportunity to catch the attention of a group of important people,” Johnson said. “Because the situation was formal, our presence caused discomfort. Activists have to get out and make people uncomfortable by telling them about issues that are important and oftentimes horrific.”

“Our goal was to remind the community of the issue while not souring President Zimmer’s special day, so we chose to keep our demonstration small, silent, and unpublicized,” Pareles said.

The U of C STAND chapter has also leveraged the aid of Brown University, where Zimmer voted for divestment last year when he was serving as provost. In a letter to Zimmer dated October 27, Brown’s chapter of STAND asked him to make the same decision at the U of C as he did at Brown.

“Now, as President of the University of Chicago, you have the opportunity to sustain your support by providing a positive recommendation for divestment,” concluded the letter, which was provided by STAND co-head and third-year Rebecca Shi.

“I am disappointed that Pres. Zimmer and David Greene, also formerly of Brown, have been resistant to divestment. They actively supported it at Brown, and I see it as hypocritical they would not do the same at Chicago,” junior Scott Warren, president of Brown’s STAND chapter, said in an e-mail interview.

The conflict in Darfur has been raging for 17 years, since the National Islamic Front (NIF) deposed the government in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, and engaged southern Sudan in civil war. In April 2005, the State Department estimated a death toll from 60,000 to 120,000.