Global citizenship- brought to you by. apartheid?

By Sarah Levy

I’m going to start off by saying that yes, I know the new Institute was paid for with specific donations for said Institute. But what I want to get at is this: while so much of our campus and the supposed ideals we aspire to revolve around being Good Global Citizens, how can we continue our business relations with, let alone prosper financially from, international atrocities?Right now Macalester’s endowment is kept largely in hedge funds-much like mutual funds,-which the Macalester Investment Board chooses outside investors to be in charge of. Each year tuition pays for about 60 percent of the college’s expenditures, and money from the endowment pays for the remaining 40 percent. The details of the endowment are kept classified, and on top of this the complex web of people and funds we pass our money to makes it so that not even Brian Rosenberg is fully aware of the companies we are invested in. While we have a Social Responsibility Committee and the Board of Trustees is supposedly allowed to “take non-economic factors into consideration when making investment decisions,” ultimately the only instruction we give our investors-and the only one they are likely to follow-is to maximize the earnings on our money. Period.

For instance, despite seeking to avoid investments that cause “grave social harm,” right now we are invested in the S&P 500, America’s top 500 companies, indirectly through an index fund. As of September of this year, the S&P 500 included Boeing, Caterpillar, Coca Cola, Citigroup, General Electric, Halliburton, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart, all and all making it a very socially irresponsible package.

This means that while Café Mac serves Fair Trade coffee (thanks to an effort by the students of MPIRG), Macalester is simultaneously supporting and benefiting from companies such as Knight Ridder that rely on the work of slaves in the Amazon state of Para to produce their wood products. Or, while MacCARES and other student groups push to make our college and the greater community energy efficient and environmentally friendly, we are still funding and profiting from the oil and coal giants who are deterring global efforts against climate change.

But besides the distressing hypocrisy of the issue, why does any of this matter?

Divestment from corporations we don’t want to be invested in is often seen as dogmatic-a way to put weight behind the principles we stand for as a school.

However, divestment can and has also been used successfully as a direct tactic to stop injustices around the world, most famously being South African Apartheid, which was finally ended after a widespread campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions that involved many campuses across the US.

Which brings us to the situation today.

In 2005 Palestinians put out a call for “boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.” They call for Israel to 1) End its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantle the Wall; 2) Recognize the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3) Respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

It is precisely that the BDS movement comes from within Palestinian civil society that makes it so powerful and effective, and the fact that we are in the U.S. makes it all the more important to respond to the call. Each year the U.S. gives Israel $3 billion in the form of both military and economic aid, which is crucial to continuing its policy of territorial expansion and repression of Palestinians. Being in this economically dependent relationship with the U.S. necessarily makes Israel’s actions far more accountable to the international community-and thus makes divestment a crucial tactic-more so than with places like Sudan.

Yet as long as we are invested in companies such as Caterpillar, Motorola, General Electric, and ITT Corp, (to name a few), Macalester College is indirectly supporting Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian people. (For more information, check out http://www.inminds.co.uk/boycott-israel.php) And with our endowment assembled the way it is, we are essentially making the statement that although we may say we stand for Higher Global Social Principles, when it comes down to it, we care about money first.

If we truly want Mac to be both sustainable and socially responsible, we need to approach the issue from a deeper level and expand the frame of our global consciousness. We’ve already taken a lead in sustainable building, let’s not be left in the dust when it comes to the sustainability of where our money comes from.

Sarah Levy ’12 can be contacted at [email protected]