Courtesy of Naina Agrawal-Hardin

On Wednesday, around 70 people gathered at a town hall led by the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition at Linsly-Chittenden Hall. EJC organizers invited members of the Yale Corporation to attend the town hall in the weeks prior, but no trustee responded to the invitations or attended the event. At the front of the lecture hall, EJC speakers pointed to a row of seats labeled with each trustee’s name, which remained empty throughout the event.

Members of the EJC called for Yale to disclose and divest its current investments in war and military weapons manufacturers, demanding that the University instead increase investments in the New Haven community and student life on campus.

“Yale has outsized cultural influence and its divestment could have a powerful cascading effect,” Naina Agrawal-Hardin ’25, an EJC organizer, said at the town hall. 

In 2018, the Yale Corporation enacted a policy that forbids it from investing in retailers that market and sell assault weapons to the general public. The policy came in response to a request from School of Medicine professor Daniel DiMaio, which was considered by the Yale Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility. 

The ACIR concluded that mass shootings enabled by assault weapons retailers cause “incontrovertible societal harm.” However, the ACIR also considered distinctions between manufacturers and retailers of assault weapons, “since assault weapons may be used for sanctioned purposes by the military and law enforcement,” per the 2018 statement from the Yale Corporation Committee on Investor Responsibility. The CCIR is advised by the ACIR. 

While the Yale Corporation has not divested from weapons manufacturers, in November 2023, University President Peter Salovey told the News that the ACIR may revisit its policy regarding investments in weapon manufacturing and retail. In February 2024, a University spokesperson wrote to the News that this review would consider extending the 2018 policy to “cover manufacturers who effectively retail to the general public” and confirmed that the review was “nearing its conclusion.” 

Last week, Heather Tookes, chair of the ACIR, stated in an email to the News that the review was “prompted” by a presentation by Yale Students Demand Action. 

“The ACIR is preparing to provide an update to the community in the coming weeks,” Tookes wrote. 

Students such as Agrawal-Hardin criticized the distinction between the current review and the 2018 review as being “unclear,” citing a lack of clarity as to whether the current review pertains specifically to divestment from military weapons manufacturing.

The University spokesperson clarified that investment in assault weapons retailers and military weapons manufacturers are “two separate but related issues” that have both been reviewed by the ACIR. 

Patrick Hayes ’24, a researcher with the EJC, also expressed a desire for the University to maintain “consistency” between its investment policies for assault weapons retailers and military weapons manufacturers.

“I think the University rightly recognizes the harm that assault weapons can cause to people of all ages,” Hayes told the News. “Especially after multiple mass shootings, including in Connecticut, like at Sandy Hook, I don’t think that the selling and profiting off of weapons of destruction and violence is something that [the University wants] to be involved in. We [at the EJC] figured the University would probably also not want to be involved in military weapons manufacturing because of the same effects that can have.”

At the town hall, Agrawal-Hardin also discussed the importance of activism surrounding endowment justice on Yale’s campus due to Yale’s historical leadership in institutional investing. The “Yale Model” for institutional investing was developed by Yale’s former Chief Investment Officer David Swenson GRD ’80 along with Dean Takahashi ’80 SOM ’83, the former senior director at the Yale Investments Office. Emphasizing asset diversification beyond traditional U.S. equities and bonds into alternative investments such as private equity, venture capital, hedge funds and real estate, the Yale Model has become the industry standard in the past three decades and is now used by peer institutions such as Harvard, Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“That’s why Yale places so much emphasis on what it does with its endowment,” Agrawal-Hardin said, referring to the history of the Yale Model. “[Yale] knows it’s a leader in this field. It knows it sets an example for peers around the world.”

During the 36 years of Swensen’s tenure as CIO, Yale’s endowment grew from $1 billion in 1985 to $31.2 billion in 2021, at the time of Swensen’s passing. 

Madeleine Zaritsky ’25, another EJC organizer, asserted at the town hall that the size of Yale’s current $40.7 billion endowment is a “political statement” itself and that Yale makes political statements by choosing how to invest its endowment. 

Besides the Yale Corporation’s 2018 divestment from assault weapon retailers, Yale officials have leveraged endowment money on other social issues in the past: in October 2020, Swensen sent a letter to firms in charge of Yale’s endowment threatening to pull Yale’s money if firms did not hire more women and people of color to be asset managers.

Organizer Norah Laughter ’26 explained the EJC’s demands for reinvestment into the New Haven community and Yale student life. Pointing to Yale’s position as the largest private employer in New Haven and referring to a Yale Daily News analysis showing that the University’s tax-exempt properties “add strain” to city finances, Laughter called for the Yale Corporation to reinvest its endowment funds into creating more jobs, expanding employment benefits, and raising pay for New Haven residents employed by the University.

Laughter also called for a higher standard of healthcare and larger financial aid packages for students, suggesting that funds be directed toward fixing “atrocious” wait times and “subpar” care within the Yale Health system.

EJC organizers also criticized Yale’s investment of 99 percent of its endowment into organizations that act as holding companies or limited partners, which organizers say promotes a lack of transparency. According to a June 2022 tax filing submitted May 15, Yale is associated with at least 165 organizations taxable as a partnership, 20 organizations taxable as a corporation or trust, and 68 organizations that are tax-exempt organizations or disregarded entities. The primary activity of most of these organizations is listed as investment, though some also support higher education, promote research or fund scholarships. Members of the EJC have previously referred to these related organizations as “shell companies” and pointed out that they are not subject to the same federal filing requirements that bind Yale as a nonprofit.

The University spokesperson defended these confidential investment choices, citing “contractual obligations” and the need to “maintain competitive advantage.”

“Yale’s investment partners are among the best in the world, and sharing those relationships would likely increase competition for access to those managers,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to the News. “This would ultimately impact the Endowment’s ability to support our financial aid, extraordinary teaching, and state of the art research.”

Agrawal-Hardin stressed that EJC organizers have gone through all the “proper channels” to establish contact with trustees without response, such as sending over 1,800 letters to the Yale Corporation and attending meetings with the Yale Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility.

“It’s extremely difficult to make contact with the trustees, as they meet behind closed doors, seal meeting minutes for fifty years, and don’t accept any direct comments on ethical investing via their online contact form,” Agrawal-Hardin wrote.

The News reached out to all members of the Corporation for comment but received no response.

The University spokesperson refuted EJC organizers’ claims of unresponsiveness and stated that trustees engage with students in both formal and informal ways.

“For example, a group of Trustees are the Student Liaisons of the Board who meet on an ongoing basis with student leaders,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to the News. “The trustees also engage with students through a range of activities including residential college teas, cultural center gatherings, athletic events, and meeting with students in other less formal ways.”

The spokesperson also explained that Yale positions ACIR as “the best forum for the community on ethical investing issues” in order to “preserve the integrity and rigor” of Yale’s investment process.

Echoing the spokesperson and the Yale Corporation’s contact form, which asks that messages regarding ethical investing be directed to the ACIR, Tookes reaffirmed that “the ACIR is the primary channel for raising concerns related to ethical investing.”

The Yale Corporation includes the University president and 16 trustees.

Yolanda Wang (she/her) covers endowment, finances, and donations. She is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in political science.