Coalition Forms to Overturn Divestment Policy

A new coalition of student organizations called “Ban the Ban” has formed to renew the effort to reverse the college’s policy on divestment. In 1991, following the college’s divestment from companies conducting business in apartheid South Africa, the Board of Managers adopted a policy of “not using our endowment to take positions on social issues.” 

The coalition Ban the Ban is comprised of Students for Justice in Palestine; Jewish Voices for Peace; Students for Transformative Justice, Abolition, and Reform; and Sunrise Swarthmore, working to overturn the 1991 ban. The group recently posted a petition titled “Ban the 1991 Ban” on The Action Network. The group also published pieces in Voices and The Phoenix. The petition summarizes the groups involved in the coalition and calls on the board of managers to reverse the 1991 ban so that management of the endowment can be influenced by ethical considerations.

“For a school that ostensibly prides itself on its commitment to social and ethical responsibility, and claims to value student perspectives, Swarthmore’s 1991 ban is not only hypocritical but a moral stain on this institution. This policy betrays our values,” wrote Ban the Ban in their statement. 

There have been many previous efforts to overturn the ban. In the spring of 2018, several faculty members fasted to pressure the Board of Managers to accept a student referendum — which passed with 87% support of the vote, with 40% of the student body voting — calling for the elimination of the ban. These efforts were ultimately met with a letter from the Board of Managers Chair Salem D. Shuchman ’84.

“Any policy change that shifts the focus [of the endowment] from attaining the best long term financial results would then require fundamental changes in both the asset allocation and the investment managers who serve the College and would place the performance [of the endowment] at risk. As with other policies of the Board, [the policy of managing the endowment to yield the best long term financial results, rather than to pursue other social objectives] may be revisited from time to time, but there is no current plan to do so,” wrote Shuchman in the June 2018 letter. This response was consistent with the board’s reaction to previous calls to overturn the ban.

Coalition members are confident that despite lack of previous success, they can convince the board to overturn the ban.

“Swarthmore can not continue this policy if the college wants to claim that it has ‘social justice’ roots; it can not continue this policy if it wants to continue throwing the term ‘social justice’ around,” wrote Sonia Linares ’22 in an email to The Phoenix. Linares is a member of one of the coalition organizations and SGO senator.

Hannah Pait ’22, president of Sunrise Swarthmore and coalition member echoed Linares’ sentiment and wants the college to stop investing in fossil fuels.

“As a climate justice group, Sunrise sees investment in fossil fuels as a direct cause of the climate crisis. Ethical divestment away from fossil fuels is the moral choice for Swarthmore College,” wrote Pait.

Other groups feel it is crucial that the college participate in the BDS movement and divest from private prisons. Coalition members feel that the college must make a change in order to be consistent with its own message.

Ban the Ban is a continuation of past efforts to change the college’s divestment policy. Regardless of what the possibilities for change are, members of the group are firm in their conviction that it is morally and ethically mandatory that they do all they can to overturn the ban.

[This is a developing story, more reporting to follow]

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