Divestment referendum discounted from ballots

The results to two referendum questions on the student body elections ballot were called out at an ceremony announcing the election results on Friday afternoon.

But 10 minutes earlier, students received an email signed by student body president Brian Goff from the email account of Interim Dean for Students Danielle McDonald saying the referendum would not be recorded as an official Student Government (SG)referendum.

The two questions, which were added to the general election ballots after Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) petitioned to place them on the ballot, sparked much debate.

One question asked students if they supported the USF Student Government in adhering to the principles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. It passed.

The other asked students if they supported boycotting, divesting and sanctioning corporations affiliated with human rights violations by replacing them with ethical alternatives. It did not pass.

The details panel of the Student Government provided an explanation written by members of SJP, suggesting the university boycott three corporations Sabra, Hewlett Packard and Strauss Group Ltd. because of their connections with what they stated were human rights violations that met the definition for an apartheid in Palestine.

In the email with the subject line Apologies from Student Government, Goff said much confusion surrounded the bill and that the questions posed inconsistencies in the referendum with Florida Statute and USF Policies and Regulations.

It is with great regret that I send this email to you, Goff wrote in the email. I would like to reach out and formally apologize, both on behalf of Student Government and myself, for the referendum that was placed on the ballot pertaining to divestment in corporations potentially linked to Human Rights violations … At this time I would like to assure you that it is not the stance of Student Government, it’s employees, or any of its affiliates to divest or boycott any corporation.

The referendum was placed on the ballot after members of SJP created a petition that received more than 2,500 signatures, which Elections Rules Committee supervisor Karim Hussein said was verified my members of Student Government Advising, Training and Operations (SGATO) staff.

Goffs email stated that SG accepts full responsibility for the confusion and lack of advertisement for this referendum.

This referendum was not vetted by any branch of Student Government, but was proposed by a group of students so they could gauge the opinion of their peers, Goff wrote in the email. Student Government remains firm in its commitment to Florida students and only getting involved with/taking stances on issues that are directly relevant to them. This, for example, means tuition, fees, creation of new universities, equal access to education, etc. Your Student Government hasn’t, and won’t, take a stance on international politics that is well beyond our means …

It is always our #1 priority to make sure the student voice is heard, which is why we added this last minute to the ballot, Goff wrote in the email. This did not give us enough time to advertise the ballot to you, for which we apologize. At the time, it was what we felt to be the best thing to do in order to make sure their voices were heard, but we now realize that doing so inhibited our voters from being as informed as possible and voicing their opinions, which is not our intent nor was it the intent of the authors of the referendum … We, as your Student Government, will do everything possible to make sure that something like this does not happen again. We will also work diligently to make sure that the student voice, regarding this topic, is heard in a manner less confusing and accessible to all students.

Reporting by DivyaKumar