Student activists drowned out the usual buzz of the Damen Student Center with chants and speeches demanding the university divest from companies they say profit from war.
Students Protest in Damen, Call for Divestment from Weapons Manufacturers
Student activists drowned out the usual buzz of the Damen Student Center Thursday afternoon with chants and speeches which demanded the university divest from companies they allege profit from environmental destruction and systematic violence.
The protestors criticized the university’s Board of Trustees for not abiding by a resolution the Student Government of Loyola Chicago (SGLC) passed last April which calls upon the university to divest from major weapons companies, The Phoenix previously reported.
The investments in question are wrapped up in the university’s endowment, a fund which totals just over $1 billion and is used primarily to pay for student scholarship support and other university operations.
The protest lasted for around 15 minutes and included approximately 20 students who lined the balcony of the second floor of Damen and held up signs and banners. Below, in the Sister Jean Atrium and food court, around 15 students gave speeches and handed out pamphlets.
The action was organized by four activist student organizations — The Student Environmental Alliance, the Black Cultural Center, Students for Justice in Palestine and the LUC Dissenters — who together identify as The Coalition for Solidarity and Justice (CSJ). Representatives from each of the organizations gave speeches which were critical of the university for not upholding its stated social justice values.
Some students passing through Damen stopped in the atrium to listen to the speeches while others who were already there continued to do their work. Protestors led several chants, waved flags and displayed a banner on the ledge of the second floor which read “WAR IS DEATH LOYOLA DIVEST.”
In a statement to The Phoenix made on behalf of the coalition, sophomore Claire Mendes said Loyola’s investments help support companies which aid in the systematic violence of innocent people by the U.S. military industrial complex. She said student organizers have been dissatisfied with the university’s administration’s willingness to discuss these issues.
“In response to the unanimous vote, students were met with canceled meetings and little action from the Board of Trustees,” Mendes, a studio art and sociology major, said. “Our Jesuit university should not profit off of pain and destruction, and our university should not ignore the voices of those most impacted.”
In a statement following the protest, Loyola spokesperson Matt McDermott said the university supports the right of students to express their opinions and beliefs and respects the purpose of the SGLC as a forum for students to raise and address issues of concern but said the university doesn’t intend to alter the investments it holds.
“The Division of Student Development and relevant University leaders have reviewed the anti-war legislation proposed by SGLC,” McDermott wrote in an email to The Phoenix. “Loyola has already adopted and published the Sustainable Investment Policy, which considers the University’s commitment to sustainability, and the aspiration to contribute to a more just, humane sustainable world in our investment policy and practices. As such, Loyola will not adopt this specific SGLC resolution or other calls for divestment.”
The protest mirrored a similar one in Damen last February, in which students also called upon the university to divest from weapons companies and led SGLC to pass its resolution, The Phoenix reported.
In a pamphlet distributed to those in attendance, the CSJ listed twelve companies — Boeing, Caterpillar, Raytheon, HP, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Facebook, Elbit System LTD, Group 4 Securicor, Amazon and Textron — they argue Loyola should divest from.
Joining the protestors in advocating for action from the university was the newly elected president of the SGLC, junior Alexandra Brist. She wrote in a statement the SGLC is committed to amplifying student’s voices on campus.
“As a co-sponsor of this resolution, I share in the frustration demonstrated during today’s protest,” Brist, a bilingual/bicultural education major, wrote in an email to The Phoenix. “The SGLC will continue fulfilling our obligation to advocate for student concerns in every relevant area of the shared governance system. We are intent on making renewed efforts to ensure student voices are taken seriously and that both our work and the progress of the university closely align with student ideas and values.”
Sophomore Ethan Jackson was among the students who observed the demonstration. He said he felt the protestors commanded a good presence.
“I thought it was quite obvious what they were doing when they popped up with the banner up there, but it seems to have gotten a good amount of attention,” Jackson, a political science and philosophy major, said. “I think finals week was a good time for it because it’s a good time to put stress on it and everyone’s awareness on it.”
Samir Mirza, a sophomore computer science major, was sitting at a table in the food court where the speakers stood. He said he supported the students’ cause.
“I appreciate that they are calling out the school’s hypocrisy, and because the same protest happened last year and I was here for that one too,” Mirza said. “So the fact that nothing has changed is not surprising but also disappointing.”
Sophomore Jessica Martens, a multimedia journalism major who was also sitting nearby, said she appreciates the efforts of the protestors to raise awareness of these issues.
“For me I think it’s really easy to go about your life here and not think about any of that so I like that people are calling attention to it especially because of how many students don’t realize what’s going on,” Martens said.
Featured image by Holden Green | The Phoenix