Last spring Alex Kane reported that 10,000 University of South Florida students called for divestment from occupation-linked firms. The following is a Press Release from Students for Justice in Palestine at University of South Florida (SJP-USF) on their latest initiative, a billboard erected near their campus protesting the silencing of their voices:
On Monday, Students at University of South Florida posted a new billboard advocating for the voices of 10,000 students. The billboard is at the corner of 50th street and Fowler Avenue [in Tampa], adjacent to the university campus.
The erected billboard follows a prolonged battle between students and the USF administration. Students’ demand for more accountability in the investments of USF’s $400 million endowment has been dismissed entirely.
Earlier last year, a coalition of students presented a petition with 10,000 signatures to the USF Foundation. The petition has three demands: transparency, ethical investment policy, and divestment from companies complicit in human rights violations in Palestine. The petition requests that USF create more transparency through a Responsible Investment Committee, composed of faculty, staff, and students. Forty-one universities have such committees, including Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. The petition represents the largest student petition in the history of Florida universities. On May 28, 2014, the Investment Committee of the USF Foundation entirely rejected the student petition after less than 15 minutes of discussion.
The petition was preceded by a university-wide referendum in 2013. In a vote of 2,111 to 609, students overwhelmingly voted Yes to “support boycotting, divesting, and sanctioning corporations affiliated with human rights violations by replacing them with ethical alternatives at University of South Florida”. But USF de-certified the referendum claiming “large amount of confusion, the lack of notice and the inconsistencies in the referendum”. USF shifted its stance multiple times, initially claiming “university does not take on political referendums”. The de-certification outraged students, and in turn, galvanized the beginning of the 10,000 signature petition.
Zaid Dabus, President of SJP USF, said, “As a public institution, we need to do more work on creating transparency. As students, we have a right to know what our university is investing in. The university uses our name to raise millions from our alumni. It’s disturbing that when we try to press for more accountability on where our money is going, the university chooses to plot behind closed doors to silence the voices of 10,000 students. We hope this billboard will raise awareness to this injustice.”