In the spring of 1985, campaigns against apartheid in South Africa mobilized on campuses across the United States. Students at University of California Berkeley became aware of these campaigns and were moved to act. On April 10, two student groups—the UC Divestment Committee and the Campaign Against Apartheid—began organizing daily rallies at Sproul Plaza, a main gathering place on campus. Nancy Skinner led the Divestment Committee and William Nessen headed up the Campaign Against Apartheid, but the student coalition made decisions through the consensus of all members.
The student-led Yale Divestment Campaign that began in 1985 sought to pressure the Yale administration into withdrawing its shares in companies that operated in apartheid South Africa. Although in 1978 the administration had incorporated the Sullivan Principles (an ethical purchasing guideline) into its purchasing policies, application of these principles was slow.