UTD student senate passes divestment resolution

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

On April 4, the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) student senate passed a resolution known as S.R. 2022-40, or “Divestment for Militarism.”

The resolution recommended that “UTD divest its shares in the University of Texas Investment Management Company, or UTIMCO, which manages UTD’s investments and endowment funds. The five companies of interest are Raytheon Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics, which provide arms for various countries, including the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel,” according to a report in UTD’s student newspaper The Mercury.

The resolution was authored by Nidaa Lafi, a global business senator, and neuroscience senator Khaled Shihabi, who are also a part of the advocacy group Students for Justice in Palestine, a group which is well-known nationally for its contempt of Israel and anti-Israel campaigns.

When they learned of the resolution, Joel Schwitzer, regional director of the American Jewish Committee–Dallas (AJC), and Michelle Friedman, director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas Community Relations and Public Affairs department (formerly known as the JCRC), reached out to UTD President Richard Benson in writing on behalf of UTD’s Jewish community expressing concern. Stacy Cushing, director of the ADL’s Texoma Region, also reached out to the UTD president.

Benson has participated in AJC’s Project Interchange Program and traveled to Israel with the organization. In response to the AJC, JCRC and ADL outreach, Benson sent a letter to the organizations stating that UTD leadership does not share the same view as the student senate. In addition, he wrote that the resolution does not obligate UTD or the UT system to take any action.

He added that the safety and security of Jewish faculty and students is important to the university.

“Our Division of Student Affairs, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and the Police Department will all work to provide support to the faculty, staff and students who are concerned about this action and any possibility of hostility or harassment. We will meet with Jewish organizations, including yours, to reaffirm that this resolution is not UT Dallas’ position and we will provide supportive safety resources on our campus,” Benson wrote.

This is one of the issues Schwitzer and Friedman pointed out in their initial outreach to Benson. They shared the research from AJC’s recent “Survey on Antisemitism in America,” which found that 18% of college students felt unsafe at campus events because they are Jewish and 21% avoid wearing or carrying anything that might identify them as Jewish.

Schwitzer said that a meeting is on the books for May with AJC, ADL, the JCRC and Benson. Also next month, when AJC’s director of contemporary Jewish life is in town, a meeting has been arranged with Gene Fitch, vice president of academic affairs, whose portfolio also includes diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). Part of the work of all three organizations is to educate leaders outside the Jewish community about antisemitism and anti-Israel bias.

Schwitzer added that issues of importance to the Jewish community are a part of the diversity, equity and inclusion conversation at UTD. He said that this isn’t the case at many universities.

“We’re grateful that that’s not the case at UT Dallas, and in fact, Vice President Fitch is actually going to be going to Israel with AJC this summer on a delegation of university VPs of student life and the DE&I professionals,” Schwitzer said.

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