Lawrence must divest from war and climate profiteers

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In 2021, Lawrence University was reported to have an endowment of $487 million. A university’s endowment refers to financial assets donated by individuals, foundations, corporations and other invested entities. A major way universities grow their endowment is by investing the funds they receive. While universities invest in a range of industries, they continue to face scrutiny for investing in companies and industries that profit off of war and environmental destruction. Historically, students have led campaigns pressuring their schools to divest from certain industries and companies. In the 1980s, universities under pressure from students, faculty and staff became leaders in the anti-apartheid divestment movement. Lawrentians were no different: student organizers held protests, circulated petitions and engaged in direct action. In 1985, a coalition of student organizers were able to get 25-35% of the student body to sign a petition demanding the right to know where and how Lawrence University conducts investments. While ultimately unsuccessful at Lawrence, the combined strength of student-led divestment campaigns significantly contributed to the end of South African apartheid. The time to renew the anti-apartheid struggle is here. Over 100 universities have committed to divest from fossil fuels. The time for LU to divest from death and ecological destruction is here.  

As a private institution, Lawrence has no legal obligation to disclose financial records, but as Lawrence community members, it’s past time we had a seat at the table. Lawrence University touts sustainability as a core value. The net-zero BjÖrklunden pledge was a small step in the right direction for LU, but since that largely symbolic pledge, it is clear that true sustainability is of low priority. At this time, Lawrence University has made no tangible public effort to divest from institutions that profit from the ongoing genocide in Gaza, nor has their projection of sustainability reflected public investment pledges. This morally reprehensible and irresponsible conduct must end. A 2021 Nacubo Report stated that Lawrence University has an endowment of $487 million, and after Appleton Students for a Democratic Society (Appleton SDS) members met with President Carter and Cabinet members Chris Clarke and Kenny Yarbrough, it was clear Lawrence has no public code of ethics from which to make moral investments. We demand financial transparency and accountability processes. LU administrators, can you assure the Lawrence community that your endowed funds are not invested in the profiteers of war and ecological collapse? 

We know change won’t happen without pressure. Appleton SDS has created a comprehensive divestment campaign, detailed in the attached QR code. This campaign demands targeted divestment of select war profiteers and weapons manufacturers, in addition to divestment from all fossil fuel companies. Our targeted divestment of specific companies is based on current global divestment campaigns, and a review of Wisconsin-specific companies with ties to Israel. 

Our second divestment aim is much simpler: we demand Lawrence University divest entirely from fossil fuel companies. Divestment is an immediate step we can take to strike a material blow to the U.S.-backed genocide in Palestine, while ending our universities’ contributions to the continued climate emergency. Omar Baghouti, co-founder of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, once said, “The most profound ethical obligation in these times is to act to end complicity. Only thus can we truly hope to end oppression and violence.” In a moment defined by climate catastrophe and an ongoing genocide, we have an obligation to speak out and leverage collective student power to change university policy. 

It’s past time for Lawrence to invest responsibly and ethically, but that won’t happen unless we stand up and fight back! Divestment from companies that profit off of suffering and destruction won’t single-handedly end injustice, but it’s an essential step on the path—and it’s a step that each and every one of us can take to enact material change right now. This is a call to action: if you as a student, organization, alumnus or member of faculty or staff wish to support this campaign, click on this link.