In April of this year I met with a number of like-minded individuals at Arizona State University. By like-minded, I mean people who are concerned about social justice and human rights. We had a vision of linking our student organizations – interests like women’s rights and fair trade, LGBTQ equality and anti-genocide came together. Our primary goal was to establish something ASU didn’t have, but that we thought it needed: a Committee for Socially Responsible Investing.’
A number of universities have these committees. They’ve manifested themselves in different structures and with different goals. One early and prominent campaign was the campaign to cripple the South African regime through divestment (which started in the US with the Sullivan Principles and in universities with Stanford). Recently there has been a push to divest from companies like PetroChina that do business with Sudan, a frequent human rights abuser. Currently a number of universities have begun the controversial but justified effort to sever ties with the aggressive and abusive Israeli government. Yet ASU does not have a committee to oversee what money is spent on. There is definitely no one looking over the Fulton Foundation’s investments.
So we established the ASU Coalition for Human Rights. And we drafted a proposal. And we began meeting with Vice President for University Student Initiatives Dr. James Rund. We began making progress. I was among four students in a meeting with Dr. Rund at the end of September. We spent the better part of an hour debating the need for a committee and the trend of social responsibility that ASU is missing. We began debating the structure of such a committee – who would serve on it? how would the Coalition be involved? would the committee’s decisions be binding? It was at this point that I turned to Dr. Rund and asked, bluntly: “So, are you saying that you support the creation of a committee, but want to debate the structure of it?” To which he casually responded, “I’d say yes, yes I am.” We later adjourned the meeting and agreed to speak with Student Government’s Council of Presidents on the issue and come back to Dr. Rund.
Last week, a number of my like-minded peers met with Dr. Rund. Just weeks after telling me that, yes, yes he supported the idea of creating a committee, we were told that the committee was a bad idea. We were challenged not only on the structure of the committee, but on the structure of the Coalition itself (we had recently voted down an application from a political student organization on the grounds of the Coalition being apolitical and purely human rights-oriented) and even on the premise of the necessity of such a committee. We were told that, if there is a question of ASU’s investments, feel free to bring it up with ASU’s leadership.
A lot of our success has been curbed, but we’re not stopping. ASU has not yet made an official proclamation to have sweatshop-free merchandise (although ASU did cut its contract with Russell Athletic over labor disputes, which deserves some applause). ASU has not taken a stance in making sure its electronics are audited to be conflict mineral-free. The Fulton Foundation’s finances have not been made public, so I personally have no idea if my tuition dollars are indirectly supporting genocide in Darfur now or election-disruption in South Sudan in January. Who knows where that money goes?
I still have hopes that my university will take a step forward. I have hopes that our organization will be able to keep the pressure on until a permanent Committee for Socially Responsible Investing is established at Arizona State University. Let’s keep this going.