Stanford University

Stanford University’s divestment campaign took a very different approach to Michigan State University, but it nevertheless attracted greater national attention for its efforts. In 1977, student activists created the Stanford Committee for a Responsible Investment Policy (SCRIP) which promptly launched a large school-wide education campaign to explain Stanford’s involvement in Apartheid investment. SCRIP taught a class on Apartheid that produced a document that detailed all of Stanford’s connections to the South African government, they disseminated that information via the school newspaper, walked door-to-door through the dorms to hand out leaflets, and even produced guerilla theater performances aimed at showcasing the violence. They also mailed a copy of their research and arguments for divestment to the house of every member of the Board of Trustees. SCRIP had a strictly horizontal leadership structure where there were no rigid hierarchies, and all members were encouraged to become organizers. A petition for divestment was circulated and garnered over 3000 students and 80 faculty signatures. Once it was clear that a majority of Stanford was invested in divestment, SCRIP began staging sit-ins and hunger strikes to bring divestment to the attention of the Board of Trustees. In May 1977, over 900 students protested outside of one of Stanford’s main campus buildings, and 294 refused to leave and were arrested. Subsequently, a few months later, 50 students went on a hunger strike for three days and five students continued for a week. Despite all of their extremely visible efforts, the Trustees continued to ignore student and faculty pleas for change. At this point, SCRIP’s efforts attracted the attention of local and national news outlets, and SCRIP capitalized on this publicity by demonstrating the hypocrisy of an elite institution like Stanford’s refusal to divest. Although Stanford made a series of token gestures on the issue of divestment throughout the 1970s and 80s, it is unclear when the university completely divested from Apartheid. However, SCRIP became a model for other movements who wanted to attract an enormous amount of press and attention for their efforts.

The main takeaways from the Stanford case are: 
  • Solidarity within the student body, among university organizations, and with the faculty is crucial 
  • If implemented correctly, direct protest actions like sit-ins and hunger strikes are useful for attracting widespread attention for the cause of divestment
  • Even coordinated campaigns that have public support are sometimes not enough to convince powerful people to act against their personal interests