FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Today was a disappointing day for all advocates of human rights. Today, the University of Minnesota student government body was supposed to be presented with a resolution asking our University to divest from companies that are complicit in the human rights violations of Palestinians. Instead, with a vote of 34-31-11, they voted to strike our resolution from the agenda. Removing it from the forum agenda means it was neglected before a discussion even took place.
Student government exists to be representative of the larger student body. As students at the University of Minnesota, we had every right to bring forth a resolution and discuss it in student government with fellow students. Unfortunately, the student government did not agree. They found a resolution concerning our complicity in the human rights violations of people halfway across the world uncomfortable and not worthy of their time. This action was disrespectful to our tradition of student engagement. It silenced marginalized voices.
MSA’s actions sent a message to all groups on campus: we are not up for difficult conversations. When marginalized students bring up a conversation that directly affects them, one that is not easily relatable, it’s not worthy of listening to. Discomfort and difficulty are not reasons to silence student discussions. Even though forum is where the student body can voice it concerns and put forth resolutions because of the wishes of a few, the marginalized are marginalized yet again.
But there is more. We have been asking ourselves why ever since. The reality is, our administration interjected into a conversation before the resolution was fully discussed by the students and before it was presented to them.
In his statement, President Kaler addressed our resolution, incorrectly framing its goals. What is noteworthy is that this statement came the morning of the vote. It was completely inappropriate given that this was a student conversation that was to resume that afternoon. We strongly believe that this statement negatively impacted student opinions. The resolution would have eventually been brought up to administration for their voices to be heard then. Instead, Kaler chose to voice his opinion- one that was not well informed nor did it engage the students that proposed the resolution. And this happened before students were allowed to even discuss and formulate their own thoughts on this resolution. The administration should not circumvent and overreach student voices in student discussion. This negatively affected our forum during the debate on the motion to strike down our resolution; the last student allowed to speak spoke from Kaler’s speech in a time when it was specified that only undergraduates would have the chance to speak. Kaler’s words were the last heard in the room, in an undergraduate discussion.
What is most troubling is what inspired Kaler’s statement. On February 26th, 2016, a letter was sent to Kaler from the Minnesota State legislature urging Kaler to “publicly and resolutely oppose this resolution before this perilous vote is taken.” This letter was signed by 81 members of our state legislature. This is an unforgivable action. It was an unprecedented reach into student affairs and discussion. It was not the state legislature’s place to stifle student conversations on campus. Our student government should not be and cannot be a reflection of the state government. Our voices are voices that cause change and if they are censored to align with current policies, we will never see change.
There were over 35 student groups, faculty, and community organizations accompanied by nearly 500 signatures in support of this divestment resolution all silenced by Kaler and our MSA today. While we are overcome by the support of our fellow students and how much the conversation has grown as a result of this divestment resolution, we are extremely disappointed that it was all shut down on the floor of MSA. Fortunately, we, the students, have much more power than this. The conversation will continue as long as human rights violations continue.
This is the letter sent to Kaler attached below.