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Social Text 21.2 (2003) 111-123



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Notes from the Princeton Divestment Campaign

Vincent Lloyd and Zia Mian


One aspect of a student's moral education lies not in the curriculum but in the behavior of the faculty, staff, and administration and in the policies of the institution.

—Harold Shapiro (president of Princeton University, 1988-2000)

The divestment from Israel campaign on the Princeton campus—like similar campaigns elsewhere—has drawn upon precedents and traditions, vocabularies and tactics of earlier student movements to build support for dissociation from a regime that has been condemned by the international human rights community. We trace the campaign's history, from earlier campus movements concerning socially responsible university policy, through the early planning and organizing of the campaign, to the responses of both the local and national communities to the campaign, and the campaign's impact. At its core, the impetus has been to locate the university as a worldly institution, a place of people in interaction with each other and with the world, that must recognize its role as an ethical actor in relation to the local and global community.

Precedents

In March 2002 Princeton alumnus Larry Hamm returned to campus to speak about past and current struggles for social justice, his activism at Princeton, and current struggles around which he organizes as the current chairperson of the People's Organization for Progress, a Newark-based civil rights group. Hamm, a charismatic student leader who graduated from Princeton in 1978, had led over two hundred students in a famous twenty-seven-hour sit-in of Nassau Hall, the Princeton administration building, as a part of a protest calling for divestment from South Africa.

Divestment protests, and even sit-ins, calling for divestment from South Africa had started in the late 1960s, and the issue roiled several generations of Princeton students. The last major mobilization took place in the spring of 1985. The Princeton Coalition for Divestment organized a petition that gained 3,000 signatures from the university community in a week, including those of 150 faculty members. Jesse Jackson came and [End Page 111] spoke in support of divestment to a crowd of more than 2,500. 1 In a demonstration that blockaded Nassau Hall, ninety protestors, including fifty-eight undergraduates, twenty graduate students, and four junior faculty members, were arrested for trespassing and obstruction. 2 The next fall, the faculty voted 114-96 to support a resolution calling on the board of trustees to "adopt a policy of total divestment of university holdings in firms doing business in South Africa." 3

Hamm had been invited back to Princeton by a network of organizations, among them the Workers' Rights Organizing Committee (WROC), a successful effort to organize university maintenance and dining hall workers and support their demands for a living wage. 4 WROC was itself the offshoot of an earlier antisweatshop campaign that began in 1998, ending several years of relative quiet from students at Princeton. The sweatshop campaign received the unanimous support of the student government, was supported in the campus newspaper, and even gained praise from university administrators for students' "active participation . . . in encouraging the adoption of anti-sweatshop standards . . . and in helping to raise public awareness of these concerns." 5 The campaign highlighted— for a new generation of students and activists—that there were new political possibilities to be envisioned in challenging the morally questionable behavior of universities, in regard to both their place in society and the allocation of their resources.

Rumblings

In his March 2002 remarks, Larry Hamm had raised the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories as an example of a struggle for social justice that called for the kind of solidarity activism that had surrounded the antiapartheid movement during his time at Princeton. In response to this challenge, a number of students who had attended the talk informally gathered to discuss Hamm's remarks and eventually focused on the lack of attention given to the plight of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Much of the discussion focused on how uncritical of Israel the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1951
Print ISSN
0164-2472
Pages
pp. 111-123
Launched on MUSE
2003-06-16
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2005
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