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We Won’t Rest Until They Divest: What is UC Divest?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCSB chapter.

Walking through the first floor of UCSB’s Davidson Library, it is impossible to miss the large display that takes up most of the wall opposite the Ocean Elevators. A collection of handmade posters read “UC Divest now!” and “Divest from destruction!” and “Divest from fossil fuels!” in bold black marker. These signs encircle an assemblage of photos and a timeline that chronicles the years-long struggle undertaken by UC students to facilitate the University of California’s divestment from fossil fuels.

Whether intentional or not, the timeliness of this exhibition cannot be overstated. Its emphasis on divestment reflects important conversations that are being had across UC campuses regarding the UC’s investment in weapon manufacturing companies. Especially given the escalating displacement and violence in Gaza, an increasing number of students are demanding that the UC divest from war and destruction.

The UC Divest Coalition has been particularly vocal in condemning how the UC siphons funds towards defense companies like Lockheed Martin, Elbit Systems, and General Dynamics, thus directly profiting from mass killings. UC Divest draws from dozens of member organizations that span multiple UC campuses. According to their mission statement, UC Divest is steadfastly “against the University of California’s investment in companies that profit from war, exploit natural resources, and destroy communities both at home and abroad.” The statement continues, saying “We call for the UC to withdraw all of its investments from these ethically indefensible corporations.”

While UC Divest is a relatively new campaign– it launched officially in 2018 by a small group of students at UCLA– the UC has a history of questionable investments that stretches back decades. Notoriously, the UC boasted a huge investment portfolio in South Africa up until 1986, consequently fueling the apartheid for many years. These investments were only (reluctantly) revoked thanks to waves of student-led protest, which ultimately pushed the UC to divest $3.1 billion in South Africa-related stock holdings. 

The UC’s connection to weapon manufacturing is not new either. In 2020, The Daily Nexus published a piece detailing the extent of the UC’s relationship with nuclear weapon production. According to the article, “Since its inception, the UC has partnered with the laboratory where the weapons from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were developed.” And the UC remains co-managing “two of the biggest nuclear weapon laboratories [in the U.S.]” receiving “for the fiscal year of 2019. . . $22 million in total net fee revenue.”

Clearly the UC has long demonstrated a pattern of prioritizing profit to the detriment of millions of people.

UC Divest directs their demands at the UC Regents, the UC governing board that is composed of 26 voting members who are appointed via nomination by the Governor of California. As explained in an Instagram post by UC Divest, “The Regents are in control of: cost of attendance, employee salaries, land management, UC endowment, investment restrictions, and contracts between the UC and private corporations.”

While student-led movements have been successful in compelling the UC Regents to divest from fossil fuels and apartheid in South Africa, the same cannot be said for defense companies. UC Divest consistently calls out the UC’s involvement with BlackRock. BlackRock is the UC’s asset manager and is a major investor in weapons and war, having invested billions in Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon just to name a few. This means that our tuition money is being funneled towards corporations that mass produce lethal weapons. And these weapons are explicitly linked to human rights violations all over the world and state-sanctioned violence here in the U.S. (by further enabling police militarization and the prison-industrial complex).

It’s blatantly obvious that the UC Regents are not acting in the best interest of UC students. Rather the UC is behaving like a corporation, the main goal being to make money rather than to cultivate education. 

This is apparent when examining other decisions that have been made by the UC Regents. In mid-January the UC Regents voted to suspend a policy that allows undocumented students to be employed by UC campuses, vaguely citing risk as the reason. Pulling the rug out from underneath undocumented students like this has undoubtedly been life-shattering for many, leaving these students scrambling to find employment and forcing them to pursue underground jobs that could leave them susceptible to unfair and potentially dangerous working conditions.

Similarly, the UC has invested billions of dollars in Blackstone Inc., an investment company that has gained a reputation for being a large corporate landlord. Blackstone is infamous for engaging in unethical housing practices. Having acquired tons of foreclosed properties during the Great Recession, Blackstone has both contributed to and profited from housing scarcity. The UC’s partnership with Blackstone is despicable considering how many UC students struggle with finding affordable housing. This decision by the UC to invest in Blackstone rather than UC students themselves, who are particularly vulnerable to housing insecurity, is reprehensible.

It is beyond unfair that the wealth that we as students generate for the UC is being allocated in such a way. The UC is sitting on billions of dollars but, rather than earmarking that money for projects that will empower UC students, is investing in supremely unethical companies. Our needs and wants are completely disregarded. All the while the cost of tuition rises, housing becomes less accessible, resources for students remain inadequate. . . 

As powerfully put in a statement by UC Divest following a meeting with the UC Regents last spring, “We’ll keep fighting until students and workers’ needs are met, and call out the UC’s greed until it stops profiting from peoples’ suffering. We deserve a university that represents us, we deserve a university that supports us, and we deserve a university that fights against war, not one that benefits from it. That is why we say DIVEST NOW!

I highly recommend that UCSB students follow the UCSB Divest Coalition Instagram, which posts updates and information about meetings and educational events that are happening on campus. Our activism matters! History has proven that together, as UC students, we are a force for change. We won’t rest until they divest!

Hi! My name is Caitlin and I am a fourth year sociology and spanish major at UCSB. I enjoy listening to music, making coffee, traveling, and writing :)