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We attended President Zaki’s conversation hours. Here’s why we’re still voting yes on SJP’s referendum.

May 3, 2024

This piece represents the opinion of the author s.

On Monday, Bowdoin Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) Bowdoin Solidarity Referendum began a five-day voting period. Nineteen minutes after voting opened, President Safa Zaki sent an email to all students detailing her opposition to points of the referendum’s proposals and inviting students to attend “conversation hours” where she elaborated on her stance. As students who attended these discussions with President Zaki, we have still decided to vote yes. Here is why.

From the moment we set foot on this campus, the College invited us to serve the Common Good. The College does so by giving us access to scholarships, funds and connections. This access is life-changing for many of us—and we must use it for good. As 625,000 of our fellow students in Gaza are deprived of their right to education by the Israeli government’s systematic bombardment of schools, universities and educational infrastructure, it’s incumbent upon us to take a stand. By passing the Bowdoin Solidarity Referendum, we can utilize Bowdoin’s power and role as an endowed institution to demonstrate our commitment to human rights.

President Zaki’s email, with the subject line “Conversations about the referendum,” advocated against greater transparency and reasonable conditions surrounding the investment of the College’s endowment, citing that it comprises the lion’s share of the College’s operating budget. But this misses a crucial point. The language of this referendum does not place restrictions on fund managers but rather on the Bowdoin investment office’s selection of fund managers.

Given this, President Zaki’s implication that “restrictions on our endowment” would prevent the College from realizing its “core mission” is concerning. Even beyond the scope of this referendum and its focus, this logic precludes the College from any sort of moral obligation to uphold social responsibility in our investments and puts us out of step with our peer institutions. It is common practice for asset holders to have a set of restrictions and guiding principles that govern their investment strategies. What does it say about our investment office if it cannot align its selection of funds with the College’s stated values?

For the College’s endowment to be exposed to industries that enable the ongoing carnage and destruction in Gaza is a betrayal of the Common Good and the moral responsibility that the College has instilled in us. The College has instructed us to think critically and exercise a global consciousness. The College cannot cultivate informed and impassioned citizens of the world if they do not want us to begin that work here on campus. We understand our educational experience should not come at the expense of other students’ rights to live and learn in safety, and that is precisely because of the lessons we have learned here.

Voting yes on SJP’s referendum would show that we, as students, want no part of our institution to be complicit in the slaughter of our peers in Gaza. It would demonstrate that we want an integrity-driven, principled Bowdoin College—not just in theory but in practice. This demand is also immediately actionable: It does not require a reallocation of the College’s endowment as it is currently invested but rather ensures that the College’s future investments align with the mission to serve the Common Good.

Beyond transparency and a commitment surrounding future investments, the referendum proposes a committee of students, faculty and staff to oversee social responsibility in the College’s investments. In the ’80s and ’90s, such a committee existed. The group analyzed existing holdings and explored guidelines for future investment, informed by the principle of the Common Good. Perhaps they thought they had fully realized their vision because the committee disbanded in 1998. But it is now evident that Bowdoin could benefit from such a committee once again.

After meeting with President Zaki, we stand resolute in our decision to vote yes on the Bowdoin Solidarity Referendum. Despite resistance from the administration, we remain steadfast in the belief that our institution must uphold its moral responsibility, both within our campus community and beyond. Our vote is not just an act of solidarity; It’s a tangible step towards creating a more just and principled Bowdoin College. Let us seize this opportunity to realize the values that underpin a Bowdoin education by voting yes on the referendum.

Disclaimer: Out of respect for President Zaki’s request to maintain the confidentiality of these “conversation hours,” our piece does not include content or discussion points brought forward only in these meetings. We have instead drawn on statements shared with the entire student body as well as our own takeaways from these conversations.

Emily Jacobs is a member of the Class of 2023. Rory Kliewer is a member of the Class of 2024. 


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