“To be for is to be human. It’s an act of radical optimism.” So says the keynote video on the website of ‘For Humanity,’ Yale’s ongoing fundraising campaign. Despite possessing an endowment of 40.7 billion dollars — greater than the GDP of 88 countries — our university has decided it needs 7 billion more. Yale’s plan to raise that money seems to involve taking advantage of the idealism of its students and alumni. As images of campus’s beautiful libraries, dining halls and theaters flash by, the ad reverberates with hope and optimism. Sometimes being for something “seems to be against our better judgment,” it admits — but that is no excuse for inaction. “To be for is to believe in the possibility of a more perfect world. In our power to build it.”

“Tell me,” the video concludes, “what are you for?”

The ad’s suggestion, of course, is that we should be for Yale. That for alumni, building a more perfect world might just begin with a donation to their alma mater. Yet after the events of the last four weeks — in which the university’s administrators refused to divest from military weapons manufacturers and ordered the arrests of students who were peacefully protesting that decision — there’s undoubtedly a more apt target for that question.

What is Yale for?

Yale says its mission is “improving the world today and for future generations.” It repeats this over and over in its advertisements and public statements, as if saying it more times might make it true. But if Yale wants to improve the world, why does it refuse to remove its investments from the very companies that do the opposite? Why is it pouring its money into military weapons manufacturers, whose work only improves the tools of bloodshed and war?

The university claims to have a legitimate answer to that question. Last month, Yale’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility recommended against divesting from military weapons manufacturing because “it supports socially necessary uses, such as law enforcement and national security.” The ACIR concluded that military weapons manufacturing “did not meet the threshold of grave social injury.”

That argument is enraging, heartless nonsense. Why should we believe that an action defined as “socially necessary” can’t also cause “grave social injury?” Such an idea is nowhere to be found in “The Ethical Investor,” the set of principles that supposedly guides Yale’s approach to investment. “The Ethical Investor” defines social injury as “the injurious impact which the activities of a company are found to have on consumers, employees, or other persons, particularly including activities which violate, or frustrate the enforcement of, rules of domestic or international law intended to protect individuals against deprivation of health, safety, or basic freedoms.” A product’s “social necessity” has nothing to do with whether it meets those criteria. Every war ever fought has been defended as socially necessary. Necessity has been the justification for torture, segregation and slavery. Something’s supposed necessity tells us nothing about whether it is ethical, nevermind whether our university should invest in it. In fact, it tells us next to nothing about it at all, because the declaration that something “is necessary” is an incomplete argument. Things are not necessary in and of themselves. They are necessary for other things, just like our donations are necessary for Yale’s fundraising campaign. When the rich and powerful tell us that something is necessary, we ought to reply, “necessary for what?” Both in this case and far too often, the answer is “for the status quo,” and all of the injustice, cruelty and violence that enables it.

As “The Ethical Investor” clarified more than 50 years ago, when it comes to the question of whether our university should invest in a company, the relevant standard ought to be whether that company’s activities cause grave social injury. And, to state what should be obvious, military weapons manufacturers do. Everywhere they are used, these companies’ bombs, warplanes, drones and missiles have one real purpose: the destruction of human life. 

Nowhere is this clearer than in the unbearable horror that Israel’s government has wrought upon the people of Gaza over the past six months, and the entirety of Palestine over the past eight decades. Since Israel began its campaign on Oct. 8, almost the entire population of Gaza has been displaced. Those who have not been killed are starving to death. The aid workers who try to feed them are murdered. The journalists who report on the deaths are killed. As an intentional strategy, Israel refuses to let enough food and medicine in. All of the universities in Gaza have been blown up. Many of the hospitals, refugee camps and schools have too. More than 34,000 people have been killed. Two thirds of them have been women and children. And there could be more than 10,000 bodies lying uncounted under the rubble. If the assault ever ends, life for the Palestinians who survive will presumably return to its ‘peacetime’ conditions: their olive trees will be burned; their homes will be demolished; their land will be stolen from them and given to Israelis. They will be imprisoned en masse without charge or trial; their access to food and water will be restricted; their capacity to travel, work and live normal lives will be limited by a system of surveillance and apartheid, all on land that was illegally and violently stripped from them and their ancestors.

Hamas is a vile organization. Its attack on Oct. 7 was horrific and indefensible. So is its ongoing torture and imprisonment of kidnapped Israeli hostages. Israel, like any country, has a right to defend its people. But no country has a right to defend itself like this. No country has the right to subjugate and occupy another population. If the impact of Israel’s activity in Gaza does not constitute “grave social injury,” then the term means nothing.

The ACIR insists that in some perfect scenarios, there may be legitimate uses of military weapons. But Boeing, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin aren’t only in the business of selling defensive weapons, and, to the extent that just wars even exist, these companies don’t exclusively supply countries that are waging them. Israel’s behavior over the past months has made it more than apparent that the bombs and missiles Yale’s endowment funds are frequently employed for uses no ethical system can justify. The supposition that military weapons might occasionally be used responsibly cannot justify supporting companies that allow them to be used irresponsibly, any more than, as this university has concluded, the fact that many owners of AR-15s are responsible does not justify the sale of assault weapons to the general public. A company that knowingly provides weapons to a nation that is actively violating a UN ceasefire resolution while it is credibly accused of genocide is not one that Yale should be invested in. 

To argue for an end to Yale’s investment in military weapons manufacturing is not to advocate “for a world in which 100% of Russian missiles would strike Kyiv, because there would be no interceptors to defend against them,” as some community members recently argued in a letter to President Salovey. Demanding Yale divest from military weapons manufacturing is not the same as demanding that military weapons cease to exist. Rather, it is a demand that our university retract its endorsement of the murder and destruction that these weapons cause. It is a demand that Yale live up to its stated principles and ideals, and recognize that it cannot be “for humanity” if its policies fail to acknowledge that people in Gaza are human beings too. 

The Yale Investments Office website claims it cannot disclose its investments in military weapons manufacturing, as students have demanded, due to “the confidentiality of its endowment holdings, chiefly to honor its contractual obligations to third party investment managers.” These days, the media is overflowing with thinkpieces from supposed experts who insist that students don’t understand high-frequency trading, that disclosure is impossible and that divestment is infinitely more complicated than we think. 

But we know this isn’t true. Two weeks ago, Northwestern responded to a wave of campus protests by pledging to disclose any specific holdings “to the best of its knowledge and to the extent legally possible” within 30 days of a request being made. Brown, UC Riverside, Evergreen State and Trinity College Dublin have made similar moves. While the specific concessions made by each of these schools vary, their willingness to take some kind of meaningful first step towards disclosure and divestment highlights the fact that colleges are capable of doing far more to end their complicity in Israel’s atrocities than Yale has. The same truth is showcased by the fact that Yale has divested from extractive and exploitative industries several times before. It shed its investments in private prisons and many fossil fuels in 2021, from companies supporting Sudan’s genocidal government in 2006, and from companies supporting apartheid in South Africa in 1978. In those moments, as in this one, the idea that divestment would significantly harm Yale’s overall financial position was bogus. Arms manufacturers comprise a tiny share of the world’s economy, and likely an even smaller share of Yale’s portfolio — which, again, is worth tens of billions of dollars and famously maintained by the best analysts in the business. If Yale wanted to divest, it surely could find managers to run its finances accordingly, at little to no loss. The argument that divestment and disclosure would be impossible is a dodge and a lie. 

To build a better world, one must first be capable of imagining it. And, as the For Humanity ad implies, isn’t it the role of universities to foster those dreams and those acts? What is the purpose of the university, what is Yale for, if not to collapse the limits of what we think of as “socially necessary?” How can the university hope to improve the world if it is unwilling to provide a vision of what the world should look like? How can it claim to believe in a better future if it cannot even imagine one in which it does not fund weapons of war?

Again, Yale has no adequate response to these questions. Administrators seem to think that divestment protestors will squeal with joy if they parade out one more empty statement, powerless focus group or acronymed task force. In this, they badly misunderstand us. We aren’t tricked by empty words, false promises and tasteless ads about how much the world needs our school. We know that the university is failing to live up to its ideals. We know that it has a long history of doing so; that it was late to stop discriminating against Jews, women and African Americans; late to divest from South African apartheid; late to stop honoring one of history’s most despicable slaveholders. We know that Yale long mistreated its workers and graduate students, systematically underinvests in the city of New Haven, and often tyrannizes community members, especially those of color, with its unaccountable private police force. 

Well above its obligations as a school, Yale prioritizes its responsibilities as a hedge fund, a landlord, an employer and a brand. Its indefensible investments are an extension of its indefensible hypocrisy, which the last few weeks have exposed in full light. Our university doesn’t seem to believe anything it says about itself. Yale says it believes in a better world, but refuses to put its money where its mouth is. It claims to believe in free speech, but responds to peaceful protests with arrests and violent force. Yale may call itself an institution of higher education, but it seems to wish its students were stupid — too unaware to recognize the inhumanity of its policies; too timid to call it out for them.

I know that Yale’s administrators are decent, well-meaning people working difficult jobs. Nonetheless, on this issue they have exhibited a failure of leadership, and history will remember it. There is no world in which students can be reasonably asked to accept their university’s complicity in an ongoing genocide with meekness and moderation.

The difference between Yale’s leadership and the divestment protestors boils down to integrity. The ideals that Yale twists and weaponizes in its cheery ads? Some of us actually believe in them. The notion that a better world is possible and we need to fight for it? To Yale, that language is a nifty way of getting donors to pony up ever more money. But to some of us, those words are an ethic, a creed. Some of us live by our principles. Some of us won’t abandon them as soon as they become inconvenient. Some of us are for humanity. 

And how couldn’t we be, after all? Imagine how it feels to be a young person in America right now. Across the country, students are blocking doors and occupying buildings with the same techniques they were taught in elementary school active-shooter drills. The planet is burning. A genocide is happening. The adults are doing nothing. I also wish that protests didn’t have to be disruptive and annoying. I don’t agree with all the language that’s been used. But the protestors aren’t unreasonable for refusing to decamp, disassemble, shut up, and go home. Following the status quo has only led us down a road of horror and inhumanity. The least we can do — today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our lives — is to emulate the students who have been arrested at Yale and around the world. To hold onto each other and, until justice is done, refuse to take even one step further. 

ARJUN WARRIOR is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. He can be reached at arjun.warrior@yale.edu