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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

SGA passes resolution to divest from Raytheon and drop sanctions on 57 arrested students and staff

Senate also passes motion to increase gender-inclusive restroom facilities at UMass
Catharine Li

The University of Massachusetts Student Government Association (SGA) was called to order on Friday, May 3 for its 1915th regular meeting. A total of five motions were passed, including motion 2024-S64, a “Resolution to Boycott Divest & Sanction and Drop the Charges on the UMass 57,” in wake of recent pro-Palestinian student demonstrations on campus. A motion to adopt a formal policy recommendation to increase the gender-inclusive restrooms at UMass was also approved.

The S-64 explicitly called for University divestment from Raytheon Technologies, General Dynamics and DCS Corporation, in addition to entities identified with the global Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement. The resolution also requested that the 56 students and one staff member initially arrested for trespassing during a Whitmore Administration building sit-in have their probationary sanctions lifted.

The results of the Senate vote came after an additional student consultation form was sent out on April 2, addressing the BDS resolution. A total of 654 responses were recorded in less than 24 hours, with 75.7 percent of respondents in favor and 22.8 percent opposed.

Secretary of Public Relations and Marketing Hadiya Ahmad, primary author of the BDS resolution, spoke alongside co-sponsors Chair of Academic Oversight Committee Emmanuelle Sussman, Student Trustee Christopher Brady and Senator Dale Leone.


What University compliance with Boycott, Divest and Sanction entails

Divestment, as defined in the language of the resolution, calls for the University to initiate the “complete cessation of special and exclusive financial relationships in the defense industry, from defense companies and military contractors.”

Specific emphasis was placed on Raytheon Technologies, a subsidiary of the multinational aerospace and defense conglomerate RTX Corporation. Since 2018, Raytheon has been an industry affiliate in the College of Computer Science. Additionally, Raytheon is represented by several members of the College of Engineering Advisory Boards.

The Isenberg School of Management also maintains an educational partnership with Raytheon that offers discounts on certain master’s programs. Partners often “help guide the curriculum to fit their needs,” as stated on their website. Raytheon was also identified as one of the top six employers for UMass graduates in 2021.

Brady further clarified that the University “enjoys special preferential financial relationships” with Raytheon, in addition to other military contractors included on the BDS list. Divestment would take place through a formal cessation of such relationships on the UMass Amherst campus, as well as the University system endowment.

The larger aim of the resolution, according to Brady, is to “materially sever” the University and the larger UMass system’s financial connections to “companies engaged in actions that are unconscionable, specifically being the ongoing genocide in the Gaza Strip.”

“The hope is that consequential to divestment, that that will encourage political pressure on Israel to stop what it’s doing,” Brady said.

Several Senators and non-body members voiced concerns about whether the passage of the BDS resolution would inhibit Raytheon recruiters from visiting and recruiting on the UMass campus.

“This is not a banning of Raytheon from campus or BDS companies from campus,” Brady said. “This is really just re-evaluating our relationship as a public institution paid for by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts tax dollars to these companies that perhaps can be labeled as entirely unethical.”

Speaking further to the landscape of student activism across colleges and universities nation-wide, Brady emphasized the importance of being “intentional about what divestment means.”


Results of student consultation supplementary to Spring Election referendum

Ahmad and Brady both emphasized a significant increase in student voting participation across the board this year. As further evidence of student body support of University divestment from military contractors, the co-sponsors cited the 73.1 percent “yes” vote to the following referendum question included in the March General Election Ballot:

“Are you in support of UMass Amherst’s divestment, meaning the complete cessation of special and exclusive financial relationships in the defense industry, from defense companies and military contractors? This may include but is not limited to, Raytheon Technologies, General Dynamics, DCS Corporation, etc.”

As reported in the Spring 2024 General Elections Report, voter turnout was 12.7 percent for the six total referendum questions included on the ballot.

While using the referendum question, campus demonstrations and student consultation form as indicators of engagement, Ahmad acknowledged the time it took SGA to formally act after seeking multiple forms of student feedback.

“The SGA is completely accountable for waiting this long to bring something to administration,” Ahmad said. “The referendum question was in March … and now we’re doing this today on May 3, months later, thousands of deaths later, civilians killed, children killed and there’s no excuse for that. But we’re here now and we’re voting on this now.”

Senator Maia Shteyman asked to clarify the language used in the original referendum question, which did not explicitly call for boycotting, divestment and sanctioning as worded in the consultation form sent the evening prior to the Senate meeting. Ahmad explained that while these terms were not specifically used in the referendum question, support of boycott, divest and sanction “can be assumed by a lot of the supporters of divestment.”

At the request of Attorney General John Harvey, Speaker Jackie Fallon confirmed that the student consultation form was a supplement to the results of the March referendum and was not necessary to demonstrate student support. The chairs of the Legislative Branch leadership met on May 2 to discuss the applicability of the Student Consultation Policy on the resolution.

Fallon reported the results of the chair vote, with four in favor of invoking consultation, five opposed to invoking consultation and one abstention. To invoke consultation policy, a minimum of six votes or two-thirds majority is necessary and would have delayed the motion for eight days after initial submission.


Concerns of representation in referendum and consultation question outcome

Questions by non-voting members were raised on the extent to which the results of the referendum could be considered representative of the entire UMass student population. According to the Spring Elections report, the referendum question received 1992 “yes” votes and 733 “no” votes, for a total of 2725 votes overall.

Ahmad explained that the form was made accessible on the SGA’s Instagram account, their website and through QR codes posted in the Student Union.

“It’s my job to publicize the actions of the SGA and I am in full confidence that … the referendum questions were publicized to an extent where everyone, all students could vote,” Ahmad said.

Senator Maia Shteyman, who self-identified as Jewish, asked if Israeli students were consulted in the drafting of the motion, to which Secretary Ahmad clarified that the student consultation form was “sent out to all students.”

“Students were consulted, that’s all I can say,” Ahmad said. “It wasn’t sent to a Palestinian student. It wasn’t sent to a Jewish student. It wasn’t sent to an Israeli student.”

Shteyman and several Jewish community members who chose to attend the meeting stated the significance of missing Shabbat services on the same evening.

In response to questions concerning the potential impact of the BDS resolution on the Jewish community at UMass, Sussman, who is also Jewish, stated that she “completely [rejects]” the notion of the “equivocation of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.”

“I take anti-Semitism very seriously, obviously,” Sussman said. “I just believe it has been completely weaponized to delegitimize what we are talking about and decenter what the focus is because people are dying actively every minute that we are in this room.”


The role of student activism in calling for University divestment

In 2016, 19 UMass students were arrested for trespassing during a sit-in demonstration at the Whitmore Administration Building, demanding the University to divest from fossil fuel companies. Choosing not to pursue any further disciplinary action, the University would divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies one month later.

The role of student organizing in various past movements at UMass goes back even further and underscores a certain historical precedent for University divestment, according to Brady.

In 1977, a student-led effort pushed UMass to become one of the first universities to divest its holdings in apartheid South Africa. During the late 1980s, student activists called for the removal of CIA recruiters on the University campus, staging an occupation of Munson Hall and against U.S. foreign intervention in Central America.

With this perspective in mind, Sussman holds that the experience of the 57 arrested demonstrators reflect a “different treatment” in comparison to the events of 2016.

In February, the trespassing charges were downgraded to civil infractions by the Eastern Hampshire District Court. According to Sussman, five members of the advocacy groups Students for Justice in Palestine and the UMass Dissenters met with Chancellor Javier Reyes, and claimed the Chancellor “by word-of-mouth promise” said there would be “no further academic repercussions or sanctions” beyond the legal charges.

Sussman said no meetings have been held with the Chancellor since Oct. 26. Requests for a public meeting with the Chancellor were denied in favor of a private meeting, the reason, Sussman said, “Presumably to talk about divestment off the table.”

“While we have been attempting time and time again to have conversations outside of the SGA conversations… it has been non-compliant, non-answers and unwillingness to speak,” Sussman said.

Sussman said that the treatment facing the 57 arrested individuals is under “extreme discretion” by the Conduct Office, adding that academic probation is “one of the worst sanctions that you can get put on through the Conduct Office.”

“The DA’s [district attorney’s] office essentially put the ball back into UMass’ court,” Sussman said. “Now what’s happening is that UMass is essentially prosecuting its own students for a charge that’s the equivalent of a parking ticket that they’re not dropping.”

Effectively, the resolution also calls for SGA to take a definitive stance on the right of students to practice free speech, alongside their rights to protest. Brady added, “The implied rationale for the ones in October [2023] facing sanctions, while the ones in 2016 [who] didn’t is that the type of speech exercised at these protests is criminalized because it’s unpopular.”

Non-senator attendee Ben Rosen asked if the call to drop charges would “incentivize others to break the law or rules, knowing there won’t be any repercussions.” Sussman responded saying that the intention of the resolution was to bring the sanctioned individuals down “to the same level.”

“What we’re talking about is a different treatment of protesters [in October] that were over-criminalized the first time around,” Sussman said. “What you’re doing is you’re not… making it so that this is everyone who has ever been arrested on the UMass campus and you’re giving them special treatment by lessening the charges.”

In light of the ongoing federal investigation into the University for alleged violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, Sussman added that the resolution co-sponsors are “by no means taking charge of what [the Office for Civil Rights] is doing or overshadowing their investigation.”


Implementation of the BDS resolution yet to be finalized

Developing plans to implement the BDS resolution will be a “longer-term conversation” according to Brady. As stated in the resolution, implementation of divestment will involve democratic oversight from faculty, students and staff in a committee process where members are appointed by the SGA, Graduate Student Senate, Faculty Senate and union representatives.

Several senators contributed to the discussion, drawing attention to the responsibility of the student body to interact with administration following the resolution vote and facilitate the implementation process.

Ahmad responded by further amplifying Brady’s sentiments, saying that despite the prevalence of student advocacy groups on campus, the passage of a resolution is the “most formal way” to present an issue to administration.


Resolution passes to increase number of gender-neutral bathroom facilities on campus

Attorney General Ian Harvey continued the meeting by reviewing amendments to Motion 2024-S58, the resolution to adopt formal policy to increase gender-inclusive restrooms on the UMass campus.

With feedback from University Facilities, the primary change Harvey made was to grant a working group first discretion to identify two to five “priority buildings” for which Facilities would then conduct a restroom audit and identify restrooms eligible for “immediate conversion.”

This approach reversed the original bill proposal, which requested for Facilities to identify all possible restrooms fit for conversion and have the working group select priority restrooms. Harvey said that this would streamline implementation and not “overburden the facilities to start conducting all of this research before the end of the year.”

Under the resolution, facilities will complete conversions of priority restrooms within four months of working group identification. Amendments were also made to address water use concerns, with recommendations to replace existing toilet fixtures with low or dual-flush mechanisms to prioritize sustainability.


Senate reviews next year’s budget and appoints incoming leadership to new positions 

Ways and Means Chair Pranav Joshi shared that his committee convened to vote on the S-1 budget earlier in the day, detailing the allocation of the Student Activities Trust Fund (SATF). Joshi stated that an estimated $1.2 million will compose the starting balance of the SATF for the next academic year.

Several organization bylaws were also amended, including Title II, Chapter 13 of the General Bylaws which allows the Associate Speaker to delegate the responsibilities of Senate clerk and parliamentarian to additional officers.

The senate approved a motion to allocate $1,650 in supplementary pay for 14 members of leadership for their work during the week of April 12 to April 18.

Pheona Litoff, Zoe Beuzelin, Silas McLellan, Mai Hoang Le and Ciara Donovan were appointed to their respective positions as Elections Commissioners. The commissioner team will work with the SGA President and Speaker to ratify elections for the next academic year. Current Senator Ranya Merchant was appointed to Secretary of the Registry.

A total of 16 motions were tabled for consideration during the Senate meeting to be held next week, including motions on non-denominational prayer space policy, improvements to the UMass waste stream, and the University’s carbon zero commitment, in addition to special order motions regarding cabinet appointments.

Catharine Li can be reached at [email protected].

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