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Students apply ethics to college endowments

Three current or former student activists in Massachusetts discuss how they influenced their schools to change their investing strategies.

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Why are students focusing on investments to change the world?

Mr. Pearson: Students are beginning to realize that 51 of the top 100 biggest economies in the world are corporations. And so when they look at ... who has the biggest influence over world affairs, over child labor, over environmental issues, they're beginning to see it's corporations. And they make the connection to endowments.

What concerns students most?

Ms. Pritchard: Divestment from Sudan has been a big topic of interest ... and also climate change, I think, is on the minds of students these days.

How do university officials react when you urge them to divest from Sudan?

Mr. Zainabadi: They didn't say anything. They ignored us for about nine months out of the 12 months that it took for us to get a response from them.

No response at all?

Zainabadi: Their administrative assistants would say: "Thank you for your e-mail; we'll take it into consideration." No responses of substance. And this was [after] we drafted petitions that garnered 500 signatures from faculty, alumni, and students. We had resolutions pass at both the graduate student council level and undergraduate student government [level]. We had a letter-writing campaign. We had letters to the editor. And finally, a "die-in," which was a protest to represent the 80,000 people who had died in the eight months that MIT was taking to reach a decision.

Out on the streets?

Zainabadi: We laid on the main entrance to MIT – it's the dome [building], if you will. And 82 of us lay down for five minutes of silence that was broken by [Rev.] Gloria White-Hammond, who has been a big advocate on Dar­fur.

Then what?

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