Article and Photos By NICK ESTES
On Saturday, April 26, in a fourteen for, five against decision (one abstaining), the University of New Mexico’s Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) passed a divestment resolution targeting Israeli corporations that commit human rights violations against Palestinians and undocumented populations in the U.S. The resolution specifically calls for the UNM administration “(1) to be more transparent in where UNM investments are made, (2) form a social responsible investment committee, and (3) to divest from corporations that profit off of human rights violations.”
An historic showing of more than 50 people attended the meeting, many to show support for the resolution. A diverse coalition of student organizations sponsored the bill; these organizations included: Students for Justice in Palestine; Students Organizing for Peace; Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán; UNM Dream Team; Men of Color Alliance; Muslim Student Association; Fair Trade Initiative; Black Student Union; and UNM Arabic Language Club.
Before Saturday’s meeting began, about 10 students and community members spoke in support of the resolution for thirty minutes of public commentary.
Although unable to attend Saturday’s GPSA meeting, Dean of Students Tómas Aguirre was slotted ten minutes to speak about the resolution. Several GPSA representatives carried a motion to remove him from the agenda on the grounds that if UNM administration’s official stance on the resolution was “neutral” then it should not be allowed to comment at an independent student governing body.
GPSA President Priscila Poliana noted the unprecedented attendance and student participation at the meeting in light of the divestment resolution and the #OURUNM campaign. Highlighting recent campus demonstrations and calls from the regents, faculty, staff, and students for increased transparency from the UNM administration, she asked, “Do you feel it? I feel like there’s something going on!”
This observation was made apparent as the meeting proceeded and tensions rose during the discussion of UNM’s oversight and lack of dialogue with GPSA about the university’s budget and allocation of funds. President Robert Frank had not responded to GPSA requests to attend meetings and failed to collaborate with student governments.
When the divestment resolution came up on the agenda, Students for Justice in Palestine members Lissie Perkal and Julie Jaynes presented the resolution. During debate several GPSA representatives yielded time to undergraduate and graduate students.
Undergraduate students expressed the frustration they felt with their student government, Associated Students of UNM (ASUNM), when members made first-time exceptions to rules of procedure earlier this month. ASUNM voted down the resolution. Many attributed this to the role UNM administrators and outside speakers played in pressuring the student government to vote against the resolution.
Graduate students, several of whom were scholars of Israel-Palestine history and politics, spoke about the historic importance of the divestment resolution and the responsibility of academic professional organizations to address human rights violations. Specificity of language that named Israeli corporations mattered, they said. American Studies PhD candidate Rachel Levitt cited non-violent protests by scholars against Apartheid South Africa and Arizona’s SB1070 as examples of how effective it is to name specific states. Human rights, Levitt stated, “has to be applied to specific contexts and situations.”
UNM law student Luke Holman objected to the resolution stating it was “too specific,” had “extreme language,” and that it was “pretentious.” Holman moved to table the resolution saying “I don’t disagree that atrocities are being committed,” but he couldn’t “support the resolution’s language.” The move to table the resolution was immediately countered and the resolution went to immediate vote.
In spite of the minority opposition, the resolution passed with no amendments to the original language. Upon passage, the crowd erupted into standing, cheering applause.
A full copy of the resolution can be found here: http://unmsjp.org/2014/04/27/full-text-of-unm-divestment-resolution/