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Student activists petition against investments in weapons companies

Michelle Lin | Photographer
Higher education experts said the uncertainty of the pandemic helped drive faculty who may have retired to the security of guaranteed income.

A student activist group’s petition demanding the University divest from top U.S. weapons manufacturers has gained more than 350 signatures.

GW Dissenters staged a protest late last month where they tried to urge the Board of Trustees to commit to divesting from top weapon manufacturers like Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The group launched the petition in November and it has since amassed more than 350 signatures from students, faculty and alumni demanding divestment.

Aryani Duppada, a freshman majoring in sociology and member, said she hopes that beyond divesting in major weapons companies, GW administrators will reallocate funds from tuition into student interests like campus infrastructure. Duppada and the GW Dissenters said they hope for “greater transparency” about GW’s investments in general since the school does not publicly release its expenditures.

“As people who go to school at GW, we really need to know where our money’s going,” Duppada said.

University spokesperson Julia Metjian said the University is “aware” of the petition submitted by Dissenters and that they do not approach investments on a “company-by-company basis.”

“The endowment is invested in a diverse portfolio of funds that are adjusted regularly,” she said. “The University works to ensure that the endowment is managed in a legal and ethical matter.”

A video posted by Dissenters shows Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights saying the Board will consider the petition.

Duppada met Dissenters co-founder Jelina Liu at a Student Org Fair this September. She said she soon became heavily involved in GW Dissenters, working to expand the club’s membership and recognition through social media, banners and their petition.

“We just want the administrators to know that students want a say in where our money goes, and we don’t want them to be using it to invest in weapons companies,” Duppada said. “We have real problems on campus that they need to fix.”

Duppada said students who want to get involved can message GW Dissenters on Instagram to find more information on their actions.

“We are trying to build a community at our campus and in D.C. of students who are either impacted by imperialism or just want to get involved in any way,” Duppada said. 

Liu, a junior majoring in political communication, said she was inspired to begin the chapter at GW after she noticed that primarily “older, white” individuals were at the forefront of anti-war movements. She said she felt it was important to have a Dissenters chapter at GW due to the University’s location in the nation’s capital and potential ties to weapons manufacturing companies.

“We are so close to the White House and all these people in power who are the ones who vote for pushing the U.S. into wars,” Liu said. “A lot of people in Congress have stock in these weapon companies, which influences their decisions.”

Liu said the top weapon manufacturers are “complicit” in the murder of civilians all over the world, and due to the University’s investment, “they are actively killing people.”

“The companies profit off of war essentially, and of course GW is involved in that,” Liu said.

Neha Darisi, a freshman majoring in international affairs, said she learned of GW Dissenters from Duppada and that the passion of other members as well as the club’s anti-war messaging attracted her to the cause. She said she gravitated toward the “strong” community within GW Dissenters after attending their first meeting, which spurred her decision to become more involved. Darisi said she is responsible for contacting students in Howard University’s Dissenters and helping lead club meetings.

On Valentine’s Day, GW Dissenters held a large banner in Kogan Plaza to gain signatures before sending the petition in a letter to GW’s Board of Trustees Feb. 21. The banner, decorated with red and black, read, “Dear GW, break up with weapons companies.”

Darisi said she hopes that GW Dissenters will be able to educate students on the impacts of GW’s investments as well as the impacts of war on developing countries.

“We want to change GW’s campus culture,” Darisi said.

Darisi said the national Dissenters organization is planning an event in D.C. that students from universities across the East Coast will be able to attend. Darisi said the event will be held the weekend of March 24 through 26, and students from schools like the University of Maryland and Howard University will be in attendance.

“We’re in the center of everything,” Darisi said. “With our global position, I think [Dissenters] is super important, but it matters on every campus too.”

Darisi said the companies GW is investing in are selling weapons and thereby “funding genocide.” 

“This is rational, about people’s lives. And so we’re not going to stop this. This is not what our school should represent,” Darisi said.

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About the Contributor
Hannah Marr, Assistant News Editor
Hannah Marr is a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communication and history from New York, New York.  She is The Hatchet's 2023-2024 assistant news editor for the Student Government beat.
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