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MSU Gaza solidarity encampment ends; protestors disappointed by university response but remain undeterred

April 28, 2024
Michigan State University students and community members yell chants at the Gaza solidarity encampment in People’s Park on MSU’s campus on April 25, 2024.
Michigan State University students and community members yell chants at the Gaza solidarity encampment in People’s Park on MSU’s campus on April 25, 2024.

The Gaza solidarity encampment packed up and left last night after three days of camping on MSU campus

The protestors, who are calling on the university to divest from Israel and weapons manufacturers, said their demonstration has already achieved the goal of amplifying their demands

“We have demonstrated that students, faculty, staff, and community are willing to stand in solidarity with Palestine and push this university to change,” they wrote in a statement released via social media. “We have made the Board’s complicity in genocide an issue they can no longer ignore.”

Some of the protestors will travel to Ann Arbor to join the encampment at the University of Michigan today, according to the statement

Student protestor Jesse Estrada White said the students knew that staying for an extended period was likely not feasible, as students left campus last week after the semester ended. With campus closing for the summer, safety also became a concern for protestors who could no longer access campus buildings for proper sanitation

“We planned this action to send a message as a short-term, strategic strike and set of key goals, which we have accomplished,” the group’s statement said

But the students did not receive the response they were hoping for. In fact, Estrada White said their demands were misrepresented by the university

On the first day of the encampment, President Kevin Guskiewicz and other top administrators visited the camp to speak with protestors, who brought up the issue of divestment.

Guskiewicz deferred to MSU’s Board of Trustees, which he said is “reviewing our investment and endowment policies.”

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But in an email to university deans, chairs and directors sent out the following day, Guskiewicz said the university would “not be making any divestment changes.”

“As we have discussed with various groups over the past several months, and I expressed to the protesters today, MSU has been steadfast in its commitment to safeguarding the university’s investment portfolio from political influence,” he said in an email. “Our investment decisions will continue to focus on strong financial stewardship that allows us to advance our educational and outreach mission. ”

Guskiewicz’s email also discussed specific investments.

He wrote that “the university does not own an Israeli-issued security bond.”

But Estrada White said that’s not what protestors are concerned about

Instead, they take issue with the $236,114 MSU has invested in Israeli bonds

“The word ‘security’ was doing a lot of heavy lifting in that specific sentence because (MSU is) invested in Israeli bonds, just not ones that are specifically designated for the military,” Estrada White said. “Any funding of an apartheid state is funding of an apartheid state.”

If MSU did decide to pull out of the Israeli bond, doing so would be "chaotic," Assistant Vice President of Financial Management Jeff Rayis told The State News in February.

Financial experts say the complex web of outside asset managers and contractually-bound investments put the university in a bind — without much control over its own endowment.

Support student media! Please consider donating to The State News and help fund the future of journalism.

Guskiewicz also addressed protestors' concerns regarding funding toward weapons manufacturing

As of June 30, 2023, MSU has $218.1 million invested in three BlackRock funds: BlackRock Emerging Companies, BlackRock Strategic and BlackRock Systematic China Absolute Return, according to the MSU list of investments.

Advocates for divestment argue that those investments and an additional $363.8 million invested in BNY Mellon are funding weapons manufacturers involved in the Israel-Hamas war.

Additionally, MSU has $479,006 invested in weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

In his email, Guskiewicz wrote that MSU has “no direct investments in gun manufacturers, and we do not have direct or indirect investments in the three publicly traded civilian firearms manufacturers. ”

Again, Estrada White said the president did not directly respond to the protestors’ concerns because what advocates take issue with are the investments in the BlackRock and BNY Mellon private equity funds.

Additionally, Estrada White said the protestors want MSU to divest from weapons manufacturers in general, not just those making guns. 

This is an example of the university “just straight up lying about what you want,” Estrada White said. “It’s a blatant twisting of our words.”

It also points to a pattern in MSU’s response, he said. Protestors have heard from multiple trustees but have yet to get a firm commitment on divestment from any of them, he said. This has been a recurring issue throughout the year, according to divestment advocates

“The university has been coming to the camp, but they have not been working with us,” he said. “They come, they're like, ‘you guys can stay here,’ but they refuse to acknowledge any of our demands. So, I'm gonna make it very clear: I'm not praising the University. We are very much not proud of MSU.” 

MSU did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.

Despite a lack of affirmation from the university, Estrada White said the protestors feel a sense of accomplishment in their efforts

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“There's something that came together since Thursday: a community that was created, an incredible outpouring of support from people in the Lansing area, and a militancy in our activism that that we haven't seen on this campus in a while,” Estrada White said

And they won’t be done any time soon

“We demonstrated to students and the community by this targeted action that we are here, we will not be moved, and we promise them and the University that we will be back, in force, as we continue to build our movement,” the group’s statement said

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