Student Government listens to the student body’s concerns. As declared in its mission statement, it exists “to further the interests and promote the welfare” of the University’s students. If any student feels deeply about a certain issue that impacts campus, they have the right to be heard and taken seriously. The creators of the China Divestment Proposal are concerned we are not being shared this right. Like the members of U of C Divest, who made their divestment case to College Council two weeks ago, we carefully researched the topic, uncovered previously identified human rights abusers, and discerned that the amassed human rights abuses committed by the Chinese government and Chinese State-owned companies should not go unaddressed. Unfortunately, our concern for the Tibetan people and Chinese political prisoners was undercut by certain doubting representatives. But let us be clear: our concern is genuine. Above all, we do not appreciate the insinuation that this is a mere political ploy that belittles the suffering of those subject to human rights violations.
When College Council votes to divest from one small subset of the vast range of human rights violators in the world, it only makes sense that it divest from the entire set. Considering China has been home to some of the most egregious human rights abuses in the world over the past century, it makes sense to begin there. The occupation of Tibet, spoken so passionately about in the previous meeting by Tamar Gordis, a fellow presenter who lived in Dharamsala (home to many exiled or escaped Tibetans), is only a single piece of the problem.
Organ harvesting from Falun Gong adherents, as well as suffocating restrictions on freedom of speech and other basic human rights, are a daily reality for the Chinese people.
The University has already closed down its Confucius Institute due to its becoming, essentially, a propaganda machine for the Chinese government. The University has recognized the human rights abuses propagated by the Chinese government in the past and should show a willingness to take further action. It is understandable to vote for or against this resolution based on whether or not they believe the University should divest from human rights abusers, but not for petty stances. One College Council representative stated that this was a logical outgrowth of previous votes, and I believe that statement rings true here.
The other attacks put forward against this proposal do not hold any merit. The claim that this resolution is merely symbolic confuses us. When I went to College Council office hours the week before the previous divestment vote, several pro-BDS council members told me that even though they knew the Board of Trustees would veto it, the BDS resolution was worth voting for as a symbolic measure. And since it was clear to anyone on Council that the chances of the Board agreeing to the resolution were near zero, the argument that our resolution is simply a “symbolic” act ignores the BDS resolution’s original intent.
The idea that this is a method of “testing” Council is incorrect on two counts. First, it assumes that our presentation was somehow a “copy” of the BDS resolution as a way to experiment, and second, it assumes that the concerns about anti-Semitism on campus have been in any way assuaged. While the accusations made against both the Israeli and Chinese governments are similar, any resemblance in our presentation to the BDS resolution is an attempt to get our resolution passed. The BDS movement was successful, and we hope to emulate it in that respect. As for the latter claim, it is important to note that the reason the voting record for the amendment to recognize Israel’s right to exist isn’t public is because certain Council members are concerned their reelection platforms do not match their record. In short, they’re hiding. They’re scared of the backlash of voting against Jewish self-determination ahead of an upcoming election because it would cripple their chances of winning. If you would like to represent others while holding opinions privately, perhaps you should only act on those opinions outside of public office.
If you took a poll at the end of last quarter and asked whether College Council should be deliberating on foreign affairs, there would be little support for such action. However, if we, as a student body, have decided to divest from human rights abusers, then that sentiment must be extended to all transgressors. I believe this is not something Council can pick and choose on. To recognize the suffering of one group and ignore another is inconsistent and morally wrong.
—Paul Soltys, first-year student in the College and candidate for Class of 2019 College Council Representative