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SJP announces Bowdoin Solidarity Referendum petition Thursday

April 26, 2024

Bowdoin Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) announced yesterday in an email to all students that the group is launching a petition to hold a student referendum called the “Bowdoin Solidarity Referendum.” The referendum lists four requests, which ask the College “to take a public, institutional stand against the Israeli government’s ongoing scholasticide in Gaza.”

Following Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) Constitutional guidelines on student petitions and referendums, if 20 percent of the student body signs the petition, a referendum with a five-day voting period will take place. Votes on the petition and the referendum will be anonymous and facilitated by BSG, whose assembly updated its rules on petitions and referendums Wednesday night ahead of SJP’s announcement.

If the petition succeeds and becomes a referendum, at least 33 percent of the student body will need to vote, and 66 percent of those voters need to vote “yes” for the referendum to pass. Voters will vote “yes” or “no” on the referendum as a whole, not on each of the four requests separately. The College is not required to enact the requests or take any action in response if the referendum passes.

Senior Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Scott Hood wrote in an email to the Orient that the College received notice of the petition late on Thursday but has not yet reviewed its provisions.

SJP’s first request is for Bowdoin to take a “public, institutional stand against the Israeli’s government brutal and ongoing assault on Gaza, which UN experts have characterized as a ‘genocide in the making.’”

SJP leader Ahmad Abdulwadood ’24 said he thinks Bowdoin’s condemnation of the Israeli government’s attacks on Gaza would carry a symbolic importance, even if it has no immediate tangible effects.

“We aren’t trying to suggest that Bowdoin taking a stand is going to change anything, nor that that individual demand is going to be significant or provide any material relief,” Abdulwadood said. “However, we believe that the story of history and mass movements is one of joint, collective, far-reaching struggle—and that that entails far-ranging efforts, including discursive ones. The conversations we have here, in the United States, a country which is an active financial, diplomatic and militaristic supporter of Israel, matter.”

Abdulwadood said he believes Bowdoin carries a particularly heavy responsibility to make a statement as an academic institution, given the infrastructural damage to schools happening in Gaza.

“It matters that all of us, from the individual to the institutional to the governmental level, actively oppose the Israeli government’s systemic destruction of Gaza—and that our institution, which purports to be for the Common Good, that champions the value of scholarly pursuit, should not be silent when a state it perhaps financially supports makes education impossible for peers across the world,” Abdulwadood said.

SJP’s second request is for the College to disclose its investment exposure to arms manufacturing, as it disclosed its investment exposure to fossil fuel-focused funds in 2023. Bowdoin’s current degree of investment exposure to arms manufacturing is not presently public information.

“We don’t have access to that knowledge but believe that any degree of complicity is worth disconnection,” Abdulwadood said. “We’re hoping that the very feasible requests that we’re putting out will provide us with the information to understand Bowdoin’s relationship with this genocidal campaign.”

SJP also requests that the College, in the future, not invest in “defense-focused funds and funds with significant holdings (over 33 percent) in the following corporations, whose weapons have directly facilitated the mass killing of Palestinians: BAE Systems, Boeing, Elbit Systems, General Dynamics, L3Harris Technologies, Leonardo, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, RTX (Raytheon) and ThyssenKrupp.” Abdulwadood said SJP made the terms of this request as precise as possible.

“Our demands are very specific and, we believe, possible,” Abdulwadood said. “Our financial demand is a prospective one, one that is possible for Bowdoin…. We are providing a request about the selection of future funds and providing a specific threshold.”

The final request is for the Board of Trustees to re-establish “an independent committee comprising of students, faculty and staff to oversee social responsibility in the College’s investments.” Such a committee would not be new to the College, as a similar social responsibility committee existed from the early ’80s to the late ’90s.

SJP’s petition is being circulated during a wave of student activism and protests in support of Palestinians at other colleges and universities across the country, such as the University of Texas at Austin and Columbia University. The student body at Cornell University voted this week to pass a referendum calling for Cornell to divest from weapons manufacturers and call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Eisa Rafat ’25 said the recent rise in activism across the country is a chance to bring back a sense of urgency in responding to the violence in Gaza that he thinks has lost media attention since last fall.

“I think months after the fact, people are pretty desensitized to what’s been happening, and the imagery may not be as striking anymore,” Rafat said. “But the reality is still the same for Palestinians on the ground in Gaza.”


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  1. CKG says:

    I’m proud of the Bowdoin SJP and all of the students speaking out against injustice.


  2. Geoff Gordon (‘78) says:

    Last Friday the national chapter of SJP wrote on X: “Thank you Yemen” under a Houthi sign that reads “Death to America, Death to Israel, Cursed be the Jews, Victory to Islam.”

    When taking sides as an institution, in a war in the most complicated region on the planet, it may be helpful to read what each side communicates publicly.

  3. Jordan Van Voast says:

    Bowdoin has a social responsibility as stated in it’s “Common Good” proclamation. Students across the country are risking their futures in order to seek an end to the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Enacting these reasonable non-binding proposals put forth by BSG is the very least that the Bowdoin community can do. Jordan Van Voast, class of ’81.

  4. Brian Greenberg - Class of 2018 says:

    So proud as a Jewish graduate of Bowdoin to see students stand united against an unjust war. Hoping your demands are met! Love, peace, and solidarity with all the brave protesters! ✌️

  5. Blaine '22 says:

    I am really proud of everyone who created an actionable and attainable referendum. These past several weeks, I’ve been struck by how a lot of student protestors’ demands (while inspiring, noble, and rooted in the same Common Good that we celebrate at Bowdoin) have seemed less achievable in scale. This is especially true at larger universities where student/faculty/administration relations —that can make or break student activist goals— are not as personal as the ones at smaller schools. Bowdoin SJP’s proposal is more than reasonable and I really hope that the administration is able to see these ideas through should the referendum pass. Good work, guys.

  6. Aryeh Tench '73 says:

    Bowdoin SJP should do much more. At least this is a step. Bowdoin shares with all educational institutions its age a dark secret in it’s cellar of exploitation and mistreatment of others. I saw that when I was there 50 years ago. Hawthorne, how prescient, studied there and later wrote about similar secrets.

    Here when the wrong is tangible and ongoing it’s not in the cellar it’s on the front lawn. The least that can be done is to protest and disengage from any financial or other support of war crimes.

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