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I HAVE a favor to ask of all of the seniors who are graduating in a few weeks. I know that you are finishing your classes and getting ready to go off to law school, medical school, graduate school and jobs in the real world. I know that your undergraduate experience is over. But mine is just beginning.
There is something you could do that would benefit an entire nation of oppressed people while helping make a Harvard education more meaningful and moral for me and everyone else you are leaving behind.
You can give to the Endowment for Divestiture (E4D) in lieu of a contribution to the Senior Class Gift.
Your $20 or $30 contribution--and more importantly, your refusal to contribute to the Class Gift campaign--send Harvard a powerful message that students will not tolerate investment in companies that do business in South Africa.
E4D was established in 1983 by the Undergraduate Council as an alternative to the Senior Class Gift. Since then, the endowment has accumulated more than $ 28,000 in contributions from graduating seniors and alumni. The money will be kept in escrow in an interest-bearing account until Harvard divests from companies with ties to South Africa or the United Nations declares that apartheid has ended.
If either of these happens before 2003, the money in the fund will be turned over to the University to be used in the same manner as Class Gifts, which are added to scholarship and activities funds. If, by 2003, Harvard has not divested and South Africa remains intransigent, the money in E4D will be donated to socially responsible campus charities.
E4D is perfectly consistent with the Senior Class Gift's goal of improving undergraduate life. It allows students to make a financial contribution to Harvard without endorsing Harvard's practice of investing in South Africa-related companies.
Supporters of the Class Gift will argue that their charity is unrelated to Harvard's investments, since the money from the gifts goes to Harvard's annual operating budget and not the endowment. But this excuse relies on an accounting gimmick: supporting the operating budget simply frees up more money for investment, which means that a contribution to Class Gift could end up supporting a company that profits from institutionalized racism. A contribution to E4D cannot.
E4D also represents a moral component of our education, as it attempts to reform a policy that has outraged students and alumni for more than two decades.
SINCE 1971, Harvard students have protested the University's involvement in the South African economy. Students have marched, staged sit-ins, chanted and constructed an "Ivory Tower" in the middle of the Yard to show their support for divestment. In 1986, a College-wide referendum showed that 65 percent of students favored divestment. favored divestment.
Despite the obvious and widespread student disapproval, the University retains $ 170 million dollars in South Africa-related investments. The money that funds our education also helps prop up a brutal, white supremacist regime.
That is why contributing to E4D is such an important symbolic statement. Although the amount collected by E4D is small compared to the Class Gift and insignificant compared to Harvard's endowment, contributing to E4D is a way of telling the Harvard administration that it risks losing the financial support of an entire generation of graduates by continuing its morally reprehensible investment policy.
A strong show of student support for E4D will definitely be noticed by President Derek C. Bok and the members of the Corporation. As Harvard undertakes its biggest fund drive ever, administrators will surely be concerned if a large proportion of graduates begin demanding accountability for their contributions.
And the case for divestment is still as strong as ever. Despite some superficial reforms, such as the recent release of African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, the oppressive apparatus of apartheid remains intact. Support for divestment and corporate withdrawal is still almost universal among Black South African leaders. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and member of the Harvard Board of Overseers, recently advised the Board that divestment remains the most powerful instrument for bringing about real reforms in the apartheid system.
IF YOU believe in "giving something back" to Harvard in order to help out future generations of students, you cannot lose by giving to E4D. Should Harvard divest, your money will go for the same purpose it would have had you given to the Senior Class Gift. In addition, you can have the satisfaction of helping to throw Harvard's weight behind the struggle to rid the world of one of its most repugnant regimes. Corny as it may sound, your $20 contribution represents another chink in the armor of apartheid.
If E4D's goals are not achieved in the next 13 years, your money--along with the interest the fund has accrued--will still go to improve undergraduate life. Aren't the possible outcomes worth the cost?
But your donation is more than just a chance to give something back to Harvard for your undergraduate education. It is an important moral statement. When you leave Harvard, those who remain will carry on the fight to make Harvard a responsible investor and a morally conscious institution. Every dollar you contribute makes the fight easier.
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