After a contentious defeat of the ballot measure two years ago, students are hoping to put divestment up for a vote again.
OSU Divest: Buckeyes for Human Rights is currently trying to gather enough signatures to secure a spot on the Undergraduate Student Government’s ballot this spring. The goal of the vote would be to ask USG to make an official statement asking the Ohio State administration to divest any financial holdings from corporations that OSU Divest argues are complicit in the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories, as well as companies it argues are complicit in the prison-industrial complex.
The strategy of divestment falls in line with the broader, and polarizing, pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement. OSU Divest — which partnered with the OSU Coalition for Black Liberation to write the initiative — lists companies involved in private prisons in the U.S. as firms to be divested from as well.
Divestment is a highly politicized issue. On OSU Divest’s website, it singles out security company G4S, as well as Caterpillar and Hewlett Packard for the use of their products by the Israeli military in the occupied territories. CoreCivic and The GEO Group are involved in the private-prison system in the U.S. Critics of the BDS movement say the measure is financially costly and unfairly singles out Israel, with some going so far to call it anti-Semitic.
Leila Elaqad, a fourth-year in sociology and an organizer for OSU Divest, said this is a campaign to appeal to student’s human empathy, not for them to choose a side on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“This is not about one issue,” Elaqad said, “The reason we chose specific corporations over others is because of how directly they were involved in human rights violations.”
The text of the proposed ballot measure reads as follows, according to OSU Divest’s website:
“Shall the Undergraduate Student Government call upon OSU to cease and/or prohibit any investments in G4S, Caterpillar, CoreCivic, The GEO Group, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise until they are no longer engaged in the violation of human rights and other practices deemed unethical by the Buckeye community?”
OSU Divest led a campaign that ended in a high-profile defeat two years ago, when the group received the number of signatures needed to appear, but was denied a spot on the ballot by the judicial panel because the petition failed to meet submission criteria that is outlined in the USG election bylaws. After the judicial panel tried to put the measure up for a special election, impeachment threats were made and three judges resigned.
OSU Divest needs 1,895 signatures needed to get on the ballot.
Elaqad said the ability to use petitions through USG elections is important to the student body because it shows that students can get an initiative put on the ballot, and it’s a way for students to stand for a cause.
“Our goals of ethical investments from the university are front and center,” she said. “But, there is also a goal of wanting more of a chance for student voice. A lot of people don’t even know you can get a USG initiative on the ballot. Two years ago, we were the only one that even tried.”
Gerard Basalla, USG president and a fourth-year in political science and strategic communication, was aware OSU Divest’s efforts and said he supports any group of students seeking to voice their opinions.
“Divestment is a big issue on college campuses across the country,” Basalla said. “We think it’s cool that students get a voice, and this is their best way to use it. It’s certainly something that a lot of people care about, so we’ll see where it goes.”
Regardless of the events that happened two years ago, Elaqad said students should have a voice in the decision of whether to divest.
“If you don’t want to take a side at all, then we should not be funding these things,” she said. “This is a push for financial neutrality above anything else. I think we can agree we don’t want human rights violations happening with our money.”
Clarification, Feb. 9: An earlier version of this article stated that the OSU Coalition for Black Liberation was helping in the signature-gathering process. It also partnered with OSU Divest to write the initiative.