Letter: College Council Representative Xu Speaks Out Against China Divestment Proposal

By Letter to the Editor

During the College Council meeting on April 26, three students presented a resolution that called on College Council to press for University divestment from China, a country that has committed various human rights violations in its decades-long occupation of Tibet. Taken together with the proposal directly preceding it, which called on Blue Chips to divest from the 10 companies listed in the BDS divestment resolution, these new resolutions can be reasonably interpreted as an attempt by some students to make a point about the purview and consistency of College Council decisions, particularly following our passage of the BDS divestment resolution.

I will begin by saying that I have profound respect for students who take the time to raise important issues in the form of proposals and presentations before College Council. As the representatives of our respective classes, it is our duty and privilege to speak with our peers and classmates about topics that matter to them. It is our obligation to make sure that these topics are brought to bear at College Council meetings, and it is our responsibility to discuss these topics—inside and outside of our weekly meetings—with diligence, seriousness, and our utmost respect.

The resolutions that were brought before us that night, however, were transparent in what they wanted to achieve. Frequent references were made to the importance of maintaining College Council’s “consistency,” and the presentation advocating for divestment from China, resembling almost exactly in form the presentation that advocated for the BDS divestment resolution a few weeks before, has been framed as a way of “testing” whether our passage of the BDS resolution was indeed a commitment to human rights or in fact an instance of anti-Semitism. I think it is absolutely important that College Council maintain consistency in its decisions and actively condemn any and all forms of anti-Semitism. I wholeheartedly understand that there is still deep hurt and disagreement over College Council’s passage of the BDS resolution. The proposals that were presented to us last night, however—and in particular the one that called for divestment from China—I found childish, disrespectful, and deeply offensive.

To be clear, I have no illusions about China’s complicity in human rights abuses, historically and in the present day. My grandfather was imprisoned and made to kneel on glass during the Cultural Revolution. Many of my great-aunts and great-uncles died of starvation under that regime. It is not, by any means, an easy subject for anyone in my family to talk about. China has committed—and continues to commit—human rights violations in its occupation of Tibet, and I have no misgivings about divesting from companies that are complicit in this occupation. What I do find morally reprehensible, however, is the willingness of these students to minimize this issue into a political ploy, presumably designed to “catch” College Council in some form of moral inconsistency. The fact that no proposal concerning China’s human rights violations was ever raised (by these students or others) prior to the BDS resolution, that the students who presented both divestment resolutions are opposed to divestment in the first place, and that the China resolution was explicitly presented as a way for College Council to “show the student body what it’s all about” speaks volumes about the political motivations behind these students’ proposals. The violence and discrimination endured by Tibetans under Chinese occupation—and endured by any oppressed group, for that matter—is not a political instrument that students can use to prove some point about their disagreement with a College Council decision. The occupation of Tibet is an issue that exists separately from the BDS controversy, and one that deserves students who have a real stake in its resolution. Proposing divestment from China as a way of making a point about College Council or the BDS resolution does nothing but belittle Tibetan suffering. It does nothing but express a deep disrespect for a human rights issue that should be considered on its own. If students would like to air their disagreements with College Council about a particular issue, by all means, they should speak to representatives or come present them to us at our next meeting. But they should not appropriate the suffering of another oppressed group to serve their own political ends.

If I do vote to divest from China at the College Council meeting on May 2, it will be because I condemn the human rights violations that have been committed in Tibet and advocate for a university that invests its money in socially responsible ways. It will not be because I believe these proposals are a good political instrument for demonstrating my “moral consistency” as a College Council representative. That kind of reasoning would be anathema not only to the Tibetans currently living under occupation, but also to marginalized groups across the globe, whose experiences deserve much more than the political cooptation they have thus far received.

—Peggy Xu, Class of 2017 College Council Representative