Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Tufts for a Racially Equitable Endowment (TREE) recently completed the process to get their referendums on the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate special election ballot that will go out to the student body on Nov. 24. SJP’s referendum is in regard to the demilitarization of the Tufts University Police Department (TUPD), and TREE’s involves the divestment from corporations that profit off of the private prison system.
Julia, a member of SJP, told the Daily in a written statement that SJP is “an organization working toward the liberation of Palestinians … [with] on-campus campaigns including organizing for the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement and organizing for the demilitarization of the Tufts University Police Department.”
Julia, Leila and another member of SJP asked that part or all of their names be omitted to protect their safety.
“Our referendum is seeking to promote the safety of students (especially POC students) by demanding the Tufts administration prohibit TUPD officers from attending military-led and/or similar international trips in the future, refine the vetting process to prevent prior attendees from being hired, and apologize for sending the former Tufts police chief to a militarized training trip,” Julia and the anonymous member of SJP collectively wrote to the Daily.
In December of 2017, Kevin Maguire, who served as director of public and environmental safety and oversaw TUPD, traveled to Israel for a National Counter-Terrorism Seminar (NCTS) along with various Massachusetts police officials, according to previous Daily reporting.
Although Maguire did not disclose the details of the 2017 trip, a previously reported 2016 NCTS itinerary listed speakers who were affiliated with organizations that had claims of human rights abuses made against them. This included Alan Moss, the former head of the Israel Security Agency, also known as Shin Bet. Shin Bet has been accused of using torture tactics.
Controversy later surrounded the 2017 trip itself, prompting community response at Tufts.
Patrick Collins, executive director of media relations at Tufts, wrote in an email to the Daily that the 2017 trip to Israel, which SJP refers to in their referendum, was not a military training trip.
“The Anti-Defamation League-sponsored trip to Israel—which over 200 different federal, state and local agencies from across the U.S. have participated in over the years—was not a military training program, nor was it intended to serve as an endorsement of any particular policy or policing strategy,” Collins said.
He also said the university strongly disagrees with SJP’s classification of TUPD as militarized.
“TUPD has made community policing a priority for many years and has policies and training in place that emphasize that everyone – regardless of background – must be treated with dignity and respect,” Collins said.
Meanwhile, TREE’s mission is to pressure Tufts to actively commit to anti-racism by divesting from corporations that uphold the prison-industrial complex, particularly those that benefit from private prisons and prison labor.
“The referendum revolves around the question: ‘Do you support the Tufts Board of Trustees divesting Tufts’ endowment from corporations that profit off of the prison-industrial complex? This includes all corporations that use prison labor, capitalize on fundamental goods and services in prisons, construct prison facilities, and operate private prisons, contributing to the disproportionate policing and incarceration of BIPOC, queer, disabled, and poor people,’” Gabe Reyes, a junior and a member of TREE’s Internal Education and External Pressure working groups, wrote in an email to the Daily.
The university denies that it is significantly involved in the private prison system.
“The university holds no direct investments in private prisons. When we last reviewed our detailed holdings through commingled funds earlier this year, the university’s exposure to private prisons through commingled funds was less than 0.01% of the total portfolio,” Collins said.
Collins also said that the university is committed to taking social impact into account when making decisions around investment.
“The Board of Trustees last year introduced a process by which members of the Tufts community can propose the creation of a Responsible Investment Advisory Group (RIAG) by making a strong case that, for example, their call to divest has wide community support in the University, takes on a significant social issue, and will have a positive impact,” Collins said. “The process provides students with a reliable mechanism to raise concerns to the attention of trustees.”
Prison divestment movements have garnered traction at Tufts in the past, with the creation of the Tufts Prison Divestment Coalition in 2015, which was composed of Students Against Mass Incarceration, SJP, Tufts Climate Action and Tufts United for Immigrant Justice.
According to TCU Parliamentarian and Class of 2021 Senator Taylor Lewis, SJP and TREE are the only student groups who went through the referendum process for TCU’s Nov. 24 ballot.
The approval process involves the Committee on Student Life (CSL), the Elections Commission (ECOM) and the Judiciary, all part of TCU, according to Micah Kraus, a junior involved with TREE.
“The group proposing has to send a referendum proposal with referendum language to the CSL, who checks that the wording does not violate any local, state or federal laws, while the Judiciary is supposed to check the referendum for fair wording. ECOM is responsible for providing the student group with a petition that the group must get 250 valid signatures on in order for the referendum to be presented on the Election Day ballot,” Kraus wrote in an email to the Daily.
Referendums can be helpful to organizations trying to gather support for an issue. In order for a referendum to pass, at least one-sixth of undergraduates must vote in favor of it and achieve a simple majority, according to Lewis.
“A referendum … is a chance to poll all Tufts students and can help present a more compelling case for change if successful,” Lewis wrote in an email to the Daily.
Julia explained the potential implications of the SJP referendum being passed.
“We want to send the message that the Tufts Administration cannot increase the militarization of TUPD under the guise of counterterrorism,” she said. “One of the main objectives of our referendum is to hold the Tufts Administration accountable for compromising the safety of students (especially POC students) by sending a TUPD officer to a militarized training trip in Israel.”
Leila said SJP is part of a coalition of over 40 clubs on campus, and they have been a source of solidarity and support during SJP’s campaign titled “End the Deadly Exchange.”
“Especially as a campaign that is offering an alternative conception of community-based safety on this campus, our coalition members formed our vision of safety through solidarity,” Leila said.
Reyes explained what the passage of TREE’s referendum would mean for their organization.
“If the referendum is passed, it will definitely push the Tufts administration to think more critically about its investments and complicity in classism and white supremacy,” they said. “It will show that we want to create another Tufts that, instead, values Black and brown lives, believes in transformative justice, and pursues racial equity.”
TREE is a new organization on campus, prompted by the Black Lives Matter movement and renewed interest in antiracism causes.
“Over the summer, the resurgence of Black Lives Matter had a particular influence in getting our students aware of Tufts exploitative investments and recommitted to the work of these former student groups at Tufts, and thus TREE was formed,” Reyes said.
SJP has been in existence for a longer period of time and has been running its End the Deadly Exchange campaign on campus for over three years.
“Our campaign has originated from Jewish Voice for Peace’s national End the Deadly Exchange movement, which calls for the eradication of all military practices shared between the United States of America and Israel,” Julia and another member of SJP said.
In addition to the referendums, the ballot will also include two Judiciary seats, two community senator seats, two at-large Senate seats and one Class of 2022 Senate seat.
Lewis explained that this election is a special election.
“Special elections happen when vacancies open on Senate, or for seats that weren’t filled in a previous election due to a low number of candidates,” he said.
Lewis expressed his hope that students vote on Nov. 24.
“Turnout is more important than ever when a referendum is on the ballot,” Lewis said.