The movement calls for the divestment of College endowment funds from certain corporations in Sudan that do business with the Sudanese government and thus help support the genocide of black Africans.
Students leading the efforts are passionate about their cause. “Divestment was the most effective way to combat the genocide,” said Irwin. “Raising money is a great thing, but it can be very indirect. We can use the fact that we go to Amherst to make some change come out of that.”
The students leading the efforts have met with Marx to discuss the possibility of the president bringing up the issue at his meeting with the Board of Trustees on Oct. 14. Marx asked them to answer a series of questions about the issue and to report back to him with further information so as to help him make a final decision about whether or not to present the issue to the board.
Marx made it clear that students should be aware that the College is exploring all angles of the divestment efforts. “We are now trying to figure out how to continue this conversation,” he said. “It may require a little more time, but we certainly take this issue seriously.”
Marx went on to clarify that part of the reason he has had difficulty in deciding when and how to address the board had to do with the devotion of the entire community to the divestment cause.
In order to ensure that he would not be acting unfairly by listening to those students devoted to divestment, Marx wanted clarification from the students heading the campaign.
“Some of the questions I had were: How do I know in this case or in any other case whether only four students care about this? How would I know that the community felt some sense of concern about the issue? How would I know I am not responding to any small group’s request?” he asked. “I think the students that I talked to understood, and the student government understood, that they needed to answer the subsequent questions.”
Marx said he understood that the students involved were working with the AAS to sponsor some sort of open forum in which students can voice their opinions on the issue.
Another crucial step the group is awaiting is for the administration to release information of exactly how and where Amherst money is invested. Until then, they are unable to make any suggestions about what should be divested and from where.
Although none of the companies in which Amherst has directly invested are collaborating with the Sudanese government, it is unclear where the indirect investments are.
Opponents of the movement argue that divesting would mean higher risk and economic drawbacks for the investing institution. Yet the exact effects divestment will have on the College’s financial resources are still unclear.
The students leading the divestment efforts believe that given the relatively small quantity of investment in Sudan compared to what the school has worldwide, the negative effects of the divestment would not be significant.
The leaders believe that the public statement divestment would make outweighs the slight increase in financial insecurity the school may face. “We are not going to make Amherst sacrifice its financial returns, which is where financial aid packages come from,” said Irwin.
Another counter-argument for divestment is that the pulling of resources from the country will only hurt those people divestment is supposed to help; the common people are the ones who will feel its direct effect.
Irwin affirms that the goal of divestment is to urge companies to take a stand against the violence. “The goal is not to have companies pull out of Sudan, but to put pressure on these companies to put pressure on the government to change,” stated Irwin.
As part of the divestment movement, there has been a discussion about the possibility of creating an investment pool that does not hold stock in any of the companies operating with the Sudanese government. “We want to find a socially responsible investment for Amherst,” said Chaudhuri.
If Amherst is willing to take this step, it could have an even larger effect than that of divestment alone. It would create a way for other companies to easily join the movement.
Students are not the only ones involved in the divestment movement. The group has talked to various faculty members, some of whom participated during the South Africa divestment during apartheid, on how they should approach the administration.
The campaign has been officially endorsed by organizations on campus like AAS, MassPIRG, Progressive Students Alliance, Amherst Christian Fellowship, Democrats and Libertarians.
Simmons commented on past developments in the divestment campaign. “Students presented a public awareness campaign last spring; we have circulated a petition signed by over a quarter of the student body; we have received statements of support for divestment from a plurality of campus clubs and affinity groups,” he said. “As the official spokesperson of the student body, I declare this issue of urgent concern to our College.”