The following message was sent to the Barnard Student Government Association (SGA) representative council on May 1, 2018. The message responds to a letter SGA sent to the College administration regarding a recent referendum on whether the College should be asked to divest any holdings from certain companies doing business with Israel. We have also prepared a Q&A to provide context on the referendum.
Dear Members of the Student Government Association representative council,
Thank you for writing regarding the recent Student Government Association (SGA) referendum. As I wrote last week, the College will not take action in response to this referendum.
SGA plays an important role as a moderator of student discussion and education on campus. You have the opportunity to invite students with diverse – and sometimes opposing – ideas into a shared conversation free of fear and hate. You can be a forum for students who may otherwise feel they have no place to express their views. The very fact that you have included a dissenting opinion in your letter illustrates the importance of open dialogue – something we must all work to preserve.
The College has made a firm decision on the divestment question brought up in your referendum. Still, the broader issues related to conflict in the Mideast have been, and continue to be, worthy of ongoing campus dialogue and scholarship. Fostering discussion of important and difficult topics in a way that makes room for diverse views and helps everyone to be heard is an essential part of a Barnard education. I look forward to working with you moving forward to help advance civil discourse around complicated issues facing our campus and beyond.
Sian Leah Beilock
The following message was sent to the Barnard community on April 23, 2018 about the SGA discussions taking place on the referendum:
Dear Members of the Barnard Community:
I am forwarding a letter (below) I have sent to the Student Government Association (SGA) representative council regarding the results of its recent referendum on whether the College should be asked to divest any holdings from certain companies doing business with Israel. While it is important that the students have the opportunity to discuss the issues at hand, it is equally important to provide students with clarity on the College’s thinking prior to SGA discussions taking place this week.
We have also prepared a Q&A to provide context on the referendum and my letter below.
Sian Leah Beilock
I write to provide input on the referendum that the Student Government Association (SGA) recently conducted and to be transparent about the actions Barnard College will take with respect to any request related to this referendum. You are of course free to continue your discussions on this issue, but it would be misleading to not provide you with clarity on the College’s thinking prior to the SGA discussions on this topic that I understand will take place this week.
For any referendum related to Barnard’s endowment to be considered by the Board of Trustees, it should meet two exacting standards. The issue under discussion must relate directly to Barnard’s mission, and there must be a clear consensus across the Barnard community that the recommended approach is the best means to address the issue at hand.
The referendum you are currently considering does not meet these two standards. First, taking an institutional stand amid the complexities of the Mideast conflict would risk chilling campus discourse on a set of issues that members of our community should be able to discuss and debate freely. Choosing a side therefore would be inconsistent with our mission. Second, there is clearly not consensus across the Barnard community on whether or how to address the issue. While a majority of students who voted support the referendum, this is less than 30% of Barnard’s student body. Thousands of alumnae have also voiced their opposition to the referendum. For these reasons, Barnard will not take action in response to this referendum.
It is imperative that all of us at Barnard work hard to foster a community in which difficult topics can be discussed in an environment free from fear and hate. I urge you to consider how SGA can best foster civil discourse moving forward across a range of complex issues so as to allow for the highest quality education and scholarship on our campus.
I wish you continuing success with your important work.
Sian Leah Beilock
President, Barnard College