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The Scarlet

The student newspaper of Clark University

The Scarlet

The student newspaper of Clark University

The Scarlet

Student Council to Hold Referendum on Divestment

“We would be flawed if we made action without calling on constituents” said Kelechi Akabuogu, Student Council Sophomore Representative.
Leo Kerz
Student Council raising their placards to approve the first referendum question.

Clark University Student Council (CUSC) unanimously approved all four questions drafted for a referendum proposal on divestment during last Thursday’s meeting on April 4.

Student Council then passed a motion for their Elections Committee to create a special election posing the four questions to the student body. This also was unanimously approved. At the time of the meeting, the date the referendum was to be held was not specified.

The referendum will be structured like any other election, said Equity and Inclusion Representative Landon Parr during the meeting. Parr is chair of the Elections Committee, which is responsible for organizing, hosting and advertising all Student Council elections. 

Kelechi Akabuogo and Indigo Cadorette, incoming Student Council treasurer-elect and Johnson-Sanford Center Hall representative, respectively, said at the meeting that they are hoping the referendum results will be available to the public by the last Student Council meeting of the semester, which will be on April 25. 

According to an April 5 Instagram post from Student Council, the referendum will begin on Thursday, April 11 and last into Friday. All students will be able to vote on Clark Engage, a web service that hosts University registered student organizations’ (RSO) events and elections.

The Student Council meeting, held in a lecture hall in the Sackler Sciences Center, was attended by a large crowd of students, a continuing trend from the past two meetings. Students present passionately shared their thoughts on the referendum proposal. 10 students made in-person public comments on the referendum proposal, and over 40 more made comments online. 

The referendum proposal appeared to be popular among attending students. “You’re voting for us to have a right for an opinion… it’s not that fucking hard,” said Junior Liz Cowart, urging Student Council in favor of the proposal.

“I’ve never seen such public engagement… get the damn thing passed,” said Caleb Howard, Student Council Transfer Representative, during the meeting.

What is the referendum?

The purpose of the referendum is to gauge the opinion of the student body on divestment, specifically with demands aligned with those of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction National Committee (BDS). The group is leading an international campaign for nonviolent action in opposition to the ongoing Israeli military campaign in Palestine.

The referendum comes after University leaders President David Fithian and Dean of Students Kamala Kiem suggested that Student Council consider a referendum when approached about steps for divestment, as evidence of campus-wide consensus on the issue. 

In the referendum, divestment will refer to withdrawal of Clark’s endowment funds that are invested in “companies that profit from or engage in Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.” Other questions on the ballot ask students to consider whether dining hall operations and RSO spending should adhere to BDS movement demands.

At the same time as the referendum proposal was being drafted, CUSC members endorsed a call for divestment from Clark Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a recently organized registered student organization.

Representatives Akabuogo and Cadorette drafted the referendum questions over the span of about a month, with collaboration from members of the Food Insecurity Resistance Movement (FIRM), a student-organized food pantry, who initially approached Student Council in late February about acting on Clark SJP’s divestment campaign and the BDS movement.

Many students in attendance at the April 4 meeting donned signage in support of divestment. “You’d have to be deaf not to hear all the student voices calling for divestment… it’s very clear a majority is in favor of divestment,” said Representative Parr at the meeting.

Unanswered Questions

Some students are concerned about the ambiguity of the questions on the referendum, and the implications of specific BDS demands.

“I feel like the referendum needs more information to go alongside the questions, such as potential practical outcomes,” said Junior Derek Fino in an online comment.

The third referendum question, which was approved unanimously, raised questions for sophomore Marcus Palumbo. “If we are going to include a message on club funds, we should be more specific to what it means,” said Palumbo, who also suggested that the cultural and academic boycotts tied to the BDS movement could be problematic. 

Question 3 asks, “Should Registered Student Organizations adhere to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement’s principles regarding funds allocated from CUSC/Student Activities fund?”

The drafted referendum questions were first presented by representatives Akabuogo and Cadorette at a March 28 Student Council meeting. The Scarlet asked the representatives after the meeting about how Question 3 could be enforced if passed. Akabuogo was unsure at the time, and Cadorette declined to comment.

Some online commenters were specifically concerned with the implications of having Clark’s Dining Services adhere to the BDS standards, and whether or not it would affect the Kosher Kitchen, which feeds Jewish students who keep kosher.

According to an April 8 Instagram post from Student Council, a town-hall style information session happened on April 8 and 10 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. to address uncertainties about what the referendum questions mean, and what a “yes,” “no” or “abstain” indicates when casting a vote.

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  • Anonymous ~ Apr 11, 2024 at 12:17 pm

    Screw BDS and all Hamas supporters.

    • Anonymous ~ Apr 11, 2024 at 5:52 pm

      Clark student here! I recommend you find something more useful to do than troll university newspaper comments. Here’s a cool place to learn about BDS bdsmovement dot net / what-is-bds
      I hope you can use this link to do something more productive with your free time!