Are you a regular reader of banal SGA news? Only here for the controversial issues? Either way, Barnard Bureau Chief Dassi Karp has got you covered. Read on for a description of what went down at last night’s Rep Council meeting, and also what didn’t.
Barnard’s Student Government Association seems to have decided to spend the rest of the semester getting things done. This week, Rep Council welcomed 24/7 Columbia, voted on an endowment proposal, and heard from Aryeh: Columbia Students Association for Israel about the BDS referendum that was initiated last week. Close to a hundred students attended the meeting to ask questions about, support, or oppose Aryeh’s efforts (or maybe they just really cared about the endowment proposal).
First, 24/7 Columbia. SGA heard from representatives of this group, which advocates for Columbia’s providing 24/7 medical and mental health care for all students. This includes in-person counseling, emergency medical services that are separate from public safety, and on-campus places for students to feel safe and receive crisis support. The presenters described frustrations with Columbia administration’s response to these requests. 24/7 thinks that funding for this care is easily within CU’s reach, and cited peer institutions as well as much smaller schools who offer 24/7 support. The group asked for SGA’s support when approaching the administration with these requests.
Next: endowment proposal. Rep for for Sustainable Initiatives Sylvie Rosen and Rep for Seven Sisters Relations Julia Pickel presented plans for an expanded Give and Go Green collection and sale. The current collection allows students to drop off unwanted items at the end of the school year, to be donated to local organizations or re-sold at the beginning of the next semester. The proposal hopes to provide funds to expand the sale and divert more donated goods to Barnard students by covering the cost of transporting the items to storage, launder donated bedding, and provide a stipend for student workers. A deal has already been worked out with Manhattan Mini Storage, who agreed to store the items in an empty basement space for free in exchange for advertising. In an unusual move, SGA’s financial review committee did not put its full support behind this proposal, saying that paying members and volunteers of student groups sets a bad precedent, and suggested paying for student volunteer’s food and snacks while working instead of a stipend. Despite this stipulation, SGA voted to fund the project for $5,165, the complete requested amount.
In the final and main portion of the meeting, SGA heard from representatives of Aryeh about the upcoming referendum. At last week’s meeting, members of Columbia University Apartheid Divest asked for SGA to write a letter of support of divestment from eight companies that the national Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement sees as contributing to Palestinian oppression by Israel. Instead of deciding to endorse or not endorse this request, SGA decided to hold a referendum to gauge student support of this issue. Aryeh members Sylvie Miller BC’19, Adele Stolovitz BC’20, and Arabelle Chafe SEAS’18 spoke about why they see the BDS movement as harmful and why they hope Barnard does not choose to support it.
Though this referendum concerns only the divestment from eight specific companies, CUAD aligns itself with the national BDS movement, which Aryeh considers to be “divisive and dishonest.” The presenters agreed with CUAD, who last week said that this divestment proposal was more symbolic than practical in essence–divesting from these companies would represent Barnard’s support of BDS. Aryeh rejects CUAD’s classification of Israel as an apartheid state, as the term refers to South Africa’s former rigid policy of segregation and economic and political oppression of the non-white population. Using this term, they said, “lacks nuance and misleads students,” pointing to Israeli Arab citizen rights, electoral participation, and political leadership within Israel. “Israel has a lot of problems,” they said,”but it is not an apartheid state.”
Aryeh representatives also pointed out other ways in which they see the BDS movement and CUAD to be harmful to peace as well as students’ experience on campus. They spoke about how CUAD supports the concept of intifada, violent Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation in the West Bank, specifically citing the “I is for Intifada” presentation that CUAD hosted last night. “This support is despicable and directly hurts many Barnard students,” said Stolovitz, referencing students who have lost friends or family members in Israel as a result of this violence, and students rejection of using what they see as an explicit term of violence as part of campus discourse. She also spoke about CUAD’s policy of anti-normalization, which “forbids dialogue, debate and discussion” and instead “encourages animosity.” This “completely contradicts the values of Barnard,” she said. The speakers also pointed to liberal political figures like Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton, who have spoken against BDS and its tactics.
Aryeh asked SGA to ensure that the language used in the referendum question is fair. “Words like ‘apartheid’ are not facts, but arguments,” they said. They did not provide specific wording, but instead said they had confidence that SGA would represent all of its constituents equitably.
The speakers then had a chance to respond to questions, first from Rep Council members and then from other students in the room. Members of Rep Council, including Junior Class President Aashna Singh, Rep for Student Health Services Valerie Jaharis, and VP for Finance Evelyn McCorkle pushed the Aryeh representatives to identify the direct economic effects of divestment they consider harmful. The speakers did not offer a defense of any of the eight companies, nor did they cite a specific harm the divestment will economically cause. Instead, they returned to their point that a support for divestment signifies support for BDS, which Aryeh finds to be destructive and harmful.
Students spoke about how passing this referendum makes them feel unsafe on campus, and linked BDS to antisemitism. Members of Jewish Voices for Peace responded that as Jews, they don’t find the movement inherently antisemitic, though they specified that they did not claim that their participation in the movement as Jews automatically precludes BDS from ever being antisemitic. Opposing academic studies were cited and, unsurprisingly, no conclusion was reached.
Next week, SGA will hear about the results of the Desserts After Dark, the greatest example of what happens when you combine mostly un-engaged students with the promise of baked goods and statistical manipulation. Check back next week to read all about it!