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Hampshire College students win divestment from apartheid South Africa, U.S., 1977
There are several noted origins of the South Africa divestment movement in the United States. Students and activists protested the 1948-implemented system of apartheid in South Africa throughout the 1960’s and early 70’s, but the movement failed to gain much momentum. In 1962, the United Nations issued Resolution 1761 which called for economic and other sanctions on South Africa, but it received very little support from Western governments. Then in 1977, Reverend Leon Sullivan released the Sullivan Principles in the United States, a set of seven guidelines for fair corporate hiring practices for corporations doing business in South Africa. It gained acceptance among some American companies that had a presence in South Africa (as the divestment movement grew, some people would emphasize pressuring more companies to adopt the principles as an alternative to outright divestment). The student-led divestment movement took off in the late 1970’s, catalyzing in 1977 when close to 300 Stanford University students were arrested during a sit-in demonstration (see “Stanford Students campaign for divestment from South Africa, U.S., 1977”). They were protesting against the university’s investment in companies that did business in South Africa, and the national attention that followed the event illuminated the growing divestiture movement among American college campuses.
Within this context, Hampshire College students who belonged to the Hampshire College Committee for the Liberation of South Africa (HCCLSA) called for their college to withdraw investments from United States corporations in South Africa. The student group carried out a petition on campus that they presented to the Board at their March 1977 meeting, and which showed a majority of the campus community in agreement with their campaign goals. On April 21, 1977, the HCCLSA issued a call for divestment by the college. Initially, the Board of Trustees met their demands by saying that they would withhold action on the issue until their next meeting in June. The HCCLSA returned this response by calling for immediate action, expressing concern that the Board wanted to delay the decision-making until students had left campus for summer vacation. They demanded that the Board make a decision before the end of the semester. Stating that they had exhausted all other possible forms of communication of their objectives to the Board, the HCCLSA staged a sit-in of the Cole Science Center, which housed the college’s administrative offices.
In a statement released by the HCCLSA during the sit-in, the group outlined their specific demands: they called for Hampshire College to immediately sell its stock holdings in Texaco, Exxon, International Harvester, and Clark equipment, all corporations with business in South Africa. They asked that the college administration hold a press conference denouncing the South African apartheid regime, and that the HCCLSA be allowed to make a statement. They also called for the college to adopt a morally and ethically responsible general investment policy. Finally, they requested that no disciplinary action be taken against the participants of the sit-in. Responding to the HCCLSA’s demands and the student occupation of the administrative offices building, the Trustees decided to sell the shares in their control, including stock holdings in Exxon, Clark, and International Harvester. They also requested the Hampshire College administration to implement a responsible investment policy.
In May 1977, Hampshire College became the first college in the United States to withdraw its holdings completely from South Africa. It removed $39,000 in stocks in four companies. Soon after, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst also withdrew its complete stock, and other colleges around the United States followed suit. Within the spectrum of universities and colleges that undertook partial or complete divestment, Hampshire College received some criticism because its stock portfolio and endowment was so small – critics claimed that this made it less of a financial gamble to withdraw its stocks entirely. In one letter, Hampshire College president Adele Simmons stated that the Hampshire “model” was untranslatable for other colleges and universities. But the fact remains that college divestiture campaigns gained momentum following Hampshire’s move, with nine schools divesting their holdings in South Africa—completely or partially—within a year of Hampshire.
In October 1977, Hampshire College adopted its socially responsible investment policy, recognizing the College’s responsibility for, and concern with, the moral and social implications of the school’s investments. The policy set forth that future investments would favor companies that were good and conscientious corporate citizens.