Starr pushes ASPC to ‘reverse course’ on divestment bill that would reform internal finances in support of Palestine

A white building with a large, circular window sits at the end of a cement walkway lined with lamp posts and trees.
Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr criticizes legislation passed by ASPC April 22. (Regan Rudman • The Student Life)

Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr and administrators criticized legislation ASPC passed April 22, citing a lack of student representation in the decision. The resolution would divest all internal ASPC funds from items or companies deemed by ASPC to “knowingly support the Israeli occupation of Palestine,” including those listed specifically by the United Nations.

In an email sent Friday, Starr expressed “deep concern” for the lack of representation from the larger Pomona student body, calling on ASPC to reconsider the bill.

“Acknowledging … the ways in which the politics of the Middle East are so deeply connected to religious identities and that this vote came at a time when students are away from campus amid a global pandemic, we urge ASPC to discuss this in greater depth, allowing for opposing voices to make their cases, so that our student governance can be inclusive and representative of all members of the community,” the email said.

“… We urge ASPC to reverse course and allow for full discussion, and we welcome an open dialogue on this matter.”

The bill, authored by 5C organizations Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine and Claremont Jewish Voice for Peace, was introduced April 15 at a public ASPC meeting, according to public meeting minutes on ASPC’s website. It passed unanimously April 22 at the following week’s ASPC meeting, according to an April 24 ASPC email.

In accordance with the legislation, ASPC will “change its internal spending habits,” specifically mentioning its investment portfolio, senator budgets, Pomona Events Committee spending and owned business entities such as the Coop Store and Coop Fountain. ASPC will collaborate with Claremont SJP to implement the changes.

Though the bill doesn’t affect funding outside of ASPC’s own internal operations, ASPC’s “end goal” would be for the adoption of a consortium-wide agreement to ban clubs from using 5C student government fund allocations to purchase or invest in goods that the governments or the UN deem to be contributing to the settlement and occupation of Palestinian occupied territories. 

It further states that if that goal were reached, clubs which “fail to divest and/or refrain from such uses of funding would face the loss of all Claremont Colleges Student Government Association funds.”

In addressing Starr’s and other administrators’ criticism, ASPC President Payal Kachru PO ’21 and President-Elect Nirali Devgan PO ’22 said ASPC should have “made more intentional efforts to invite the broader Pomona community.” 

But Kachru and Devgan stressed that the bill only affects ASPC’s internal spending — not funding for clubs or organizations — and that ASPC intends to hear and respond to student feedback.

“Ultimately, the motivations behind this resolution were similar to those in the past: to minimize spending in ways that won’t contribute to the human rights abuses occurring in Palestine,” ASPC’s email said, referencing a 2015 resolution to ban Sabra Hummus at the Coop Store and Coop Fountain.

In a press release immediately following the unanimous vote, Claremont SJP called the passing of the resolution an “important victory” that paved the way for future solidarity at the 5Cs in support of the Palestinian liberation movement and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement. 

Claremont SJP and Claremont JVP student organizers claimed they received no notice from Starr or administrators that they were concerned about the bill prior to the email sent Friday, Claremont SJP and Claremont JVP told TSL in a joint statement.

When asked by TSL for comment in response to the joint statement, a Pomona spokesperson referred TSL back to the email’s original text, posted on Pomona’s website.

“The administration’s immediate scrutiny, combined with President Starr’s pressure on ASPC to reverse the resolution, highlights their lack of faith in the integrity of our democratically-elected student government,” the joint statement said. 

“The idea that this resolution was in some way uniquely undemocratic or secretive is baseless,” the statement said, citing the accessibility of ASPC’s website, meetings and meeting minutes.

“We also find it harmful that the email equated religious beliefs with agreeing or being opposed to this resolution,” the statement said. “Our organizations and our 23 coalitional partners represent a diverse segment of the student body who all stand by this resolution.”

Moving forward, ASPC plans to gather an implementation committee with a “diverse body.” It will also create an open comment period in the fall, accepting feedback about the resolution’s implementation processes and recommendations.

“The incoming Senate has committed to inviting members of the student body and relevant student groups to gain their feedback and guidance as we all navigate how to move forward.”

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