Guilford Alumni threaten boycott over financial transparency

On March 21 a group of Guilford College alumni sent a letter to the Boards of Trustees. The letter is a request for full financial transparency through the release of Guilford’s endowment investments by March 30. If the request is not met, the alumni plan to not give their money to Guilford.

The letter stated, “As alums, we do not want our money, let alone our alma mater, to be working against its own statements of inclusion and cultural shifts centered around our most marginalized students—and alums.”

Alumni from classes ’10, ’12,’14 and ’15 all signed . One signature belonged to a recent graduate of 2015, Sara Minsky.

“While I was a student I was concerned with how a variety of Guilford’s practices, including the financial, aligned with its Quaker values,” said Minsky. “As an alumna, I am still concerned—I still feel a responsibility to keep the college accountable to those values that brought me to Guilford.

“I hope that the boycott will result in the college’s endowment being completely open and free of investments in corporations that profit off of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the prison industrial complex, and fossil fuels.”

The letter was made public as a rallying cry for others to join. The publicity got current students involved such as Layla Rafaoui.

“As a member of the Quaker Leadership Scholars program here at Guilford, I think a Quaker institution needs to be honest when engaging in immoral practices,” said Rafaoui. “I don’t think a private endowment shows integrity.

“As the president of Students for Justice in Palestine, I need to assure we are not invested in Israel apartheid. On a personal level, I don’t want to be financially tied to an organization invested in fossil fuels, private prisons, or Israeli apartheid. Those black and brown lives matter more than my education.”

The letter mentioned other actions done by students in the past. In 1987, the Board of Trustee’s heeded the call of students to divest from the South American apartheid. In 2014, an investigation was conducted on Guilford’s $7 million investment in the fossil fuel industry. One of the students who investigated was Julia Draper, who is now an alumni.

“We sent our report to the Board of Trustees Investment Committee, along with a drafted Socially Responsible Investment Policy and some suggestions for how we could responsibly reinvest our money to better align with our Core Values,” said Draper.

“Unfortunately, because Guilford’s endowment is so small, and one can’t cherry pick what they do and don’t want in their index fund, our options for reinvestment were very limited without major financial risk.”

Draper also added, “I do not have any connection to the current boycott movement, other than I’ve offered them any information I have so they can best understand how the investment/ divestment process works as they ask for changes. I will say that I entirely understand their motivations and respect their passion for this issue.

“However, as someone who has studied this subject and these kinds of campaigns extensively, I think the best course of action for making divestment happen at Guilford would not be to withhold giving, but rather devoted giving to help Guilford meet the financial cushion it would need to ethically reinvest its endowment without risking our financial solvency and ability to support current and future students.”

While I was a student I was concerned with how a variety of Guilford’s practices, including the financial, aligned with its Quaker values…

One of the group organizers and Guilford graduate of 2012, Yahya Alazrak, has busied himself editing public statements and making phone calls.

“Balancing the budget is the responsibility of the administration at Guilford, not on students or Alumni,” said Alazrak. “What I’m saying is that the future of the planet, the lives of incarcerated people and of Palestinians are more important than money.

“But if feeling a pinch because of an alumni boycott is what it takes to get some people to pay attention, then that’s worth it to me. We’re talking about human lives, and a planet to pass on to future generations.

“Guilford taught me to think critically and to care deeply about justice. I feel incredibly proud of our community and feel like we are moving towards justice with our endowment. I love Guilford, and I want to be a donor and full-hearted ambassador again someday. I want to be proud of Guilford on all levels, not just for the education I’ve received.”

By March 25, Guilford College President Jane Fernandes wrote a letter back to the concerned alumni. In her letter, she detailed that Guilford College is invested in green energy with no direct investments in fossil fuels. The College is also not invested in prisons.

She wrote, “The Board of Trustees and I are with you, hand in hand, in this commitment. And, of course, we are committed to transparency. We have always been and always will be, so in that spirit, we are delighted to share the investments we make with our endowment. These have never been withheld or hidden.”

Alazrak is still in the process of responding to the letter with other alumni.

“We know what funds we have investments in, and I for one would like to take it one step further and know how much money we have in each fund,” he said. “An open endowment is the first step in our campaign. It is the basic information we need to be able to meaningfully push for divestment from certain sectors, and for reinvestment in the community and the solidarity economy.

We as a collective are in discussion about next steps, but we will soon have a new list of asks, and a timeline when we expect to have them met by. We will continue putting pressure on the Administration and Board of Guilford until we as a community of Concerned Alumni feel like substantial steps have been taking towards aligning our endowment with our values.” !