Students rally outside Regents' meeting at UCLA, say silence on Darfur genocide not an option.
Nancy Su, Daily Bruin reporter
More than 100 students filled the James West Alumni Center on Monday, standing with linked arms in support of the University of California's divestment from Sudan, as a committee of the UC Board of Regents approved the creation of a proposal to divest UC holdings from the country.
Monday's meeting of the regents' Investments Committee was the first time the board had addressed the issue of divestment from Sudan, a country whose government has been recognized by the U.S. as having committed ongoing genocide in western Darfur for more than two years.
After a presentation by Student Regent Adam Rosenthal, who requested the proposal, the committee voted unanimously for the Office of the President to develop a full proposal analyzing the possible effects of divestment from four companies engaged in business in Sudan.
The proposal will be discussed at the regents' January meeting. In his presentation, Rosenthal estimated that between 160,000 and 400,000 people have been killed in the genocide in Darfur.
"We have the opportunity today to stop the death and suffering ongoing in Darfur," he said.
Several regents complimented Rosenthal and his request for a complete proposal, and there was little discussion before the unanimous vote.
"(Consideration of) divestment from Sudan is reasonable and responsible," said Regent Norman J. Pattiz.
Rosenthal emphasized that divestment can be done without hurting the UC's financial portfolio if funds are invested in similar companies in countries other than Sudan. He pointed to Stanford and Harvard as examples of large institutions that have successfully divested from Sudan.
The development of a proposal examining divestment could be complicated by the UC's investment in indexes made up of groups of companies rather than individual companies themselves. Despite its obstacles, Rosenthal said consideration of divestment is an important opportunity for the UC to take the lead on stopping genocide in Darfur.
"The UC has a ... history of influencing public and private opinion," he said.
During the public comment session of the meeting, students, faculty and members of the community urged the regents to pass Rosenthal's request.
UCLA African Studies Director Allen Roberts compared divesting from Sudan to the UC's divestment from South Africa in response to the apartheid. Roberts said divestment, which was largely student led, helped to overcome the apartheid in South Africa and divestment in Sudan can help overcome genocide in Darfur.
Roberts said that, though divestment would not hurt the UC financially, not divesting hurts the UC morally.
Stanford student Ben Elberger, who headed the Stanford divestment movement, told the regents no divestment campaign in the nation has failed.
"The UC would be historic in voting down consideration of divestment," Elberger said.
The issue of UC divestment not only attracted the attention of a large group of UC students, but also actor Don Cheadle, who spoke in support of divestment. Cheadle recently starred in "Hotel Rwanda," a movie depicting the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, a country just south of Sudan.
The actor was approached by students earlier this year and has been working with them on the divestment campaign throughout the quarter.
"It's easy. I'm following them," he said.
After visiting refugee camps along the Chadian-Sudanese border and meeting with humanitarian groups and political leaders from Darfur earlier this year, Cheadle was able to give a unique perspective on the suffering in Sudan.
"Having been there myself and having seen firsthand the results of these atrocities, in my mind there is no counterargument to at least considering the divestment of these funds," he said.
Cheadle also attended a press conference put on by the UC Sudan Divestment Taskforce and spoke to a handful of students who gathered at a rally in Meyerhoff Park before the UC Regents meeting.
He said the United Nations has had little effective response to the genocide, and while political leaders have labeled the situation a genocide, they have not taken further action to stop it.
Cheadle emphasized the power students have in stopping the genocide. He said change has always been led by youth.
"Do not allow them to let your legacy be those who stood by and let genocide happen," he said to students at the rally.
UCLA student Baylee DeCastro also spoke at the rally, urging students to attend the regent meeting to show their support for divestment.
"Students at the University of California will not stand idly by while the university funds genocide," DeCastro said.
"You can have a hand ... in ending the suffering of the people in Darfur. We can end the suffering of almost a million people," she told students.
After the rally, students were told they could not go into the regents' meeting room yet because the committee was in a closed session.
The large group of students patiently waited for nearly an hour outside the alumni center for the meeting to enter open session. They spoke, chanted, and sang in support of divestment. The crowd of students only became larger as students called their friends while they waited and passers-by stopped to listen.
To entertain the students while they were waiting, members of the UC Sudan Divestment Taskforce led students in chants and at one point asked students to perform random talents. After a rendition of "Stand by Me," Undergraduate Students Association Council President Jenny Wood encouraged students to unite to support divestment.
"This is a time when we as students have come together in solidarity," Wood said. "We are here to take ownership of our university to make sure it's not contributing to genocide."
With reports from Derek Lipkin and Sara Taylor, Daily Bruin senior staff.
Published: Tuesday, November 15, 2005
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