Student union president hopes Dal will fulfill divestment before her term is up | The Coast Halifax

Student union president hopes Dal will fulfill divestment before her term is up

This could “set a precedent for other universities in Canada to do so as well”

Mariam Knakriah is serving her second term as president of the Dal Student Union.

Mariam Knakriah, the re-elected president of the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) as of May, has been pushing the university divestment movement since she took office. She tells The Coast that the reason she ran for a second term was because she wanted to see these changes through to finish before leaving office. She has been leading her union executive through this push, as well as working with the school administration to secure support for Palestinian students throughout her presidency.

“I wanted to be behind this change,” says Knakriah. “I'm hoping that with the work I've done so far last year, and this year, we will be able to reach and fulfill all of the [motion’s] demands.”

The DSU has been pushing the university towards divestment from Israel’s occupation and war in Gaza since a motion was passed by the union in March that listed five calls to action, including:

  • Stands in solidarity with the Dalhousie Palestinian Society [and other student groups] to demand that Dalhousie University immediately cut ties with and divest from any corporations, institutions, or individuals complicit in genocide, settler-colonialism, apartheid, or ethnic cleansing in Palestine.
  • Stands in solidarity with the Dalhousie Palestinian Society [and other student groups] to demand that Dalhousie University immediately and publicly condemn the genocidal campaign and siege on Gaza, and provide legitimate support to Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students.
  • Make an immediate and public statement condemning the ongoing genocide and reaffirming its solidarity with Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students.

There is an appendix to the motion with 12 companies listed “that Dal invests in that are complicit in the ongoing genocide of Gaza,” reads the motion. Knakriah says of those 12, Dal has “not divested but dropped six companies already…so we’re dealing with the other six now.” Dal’s investment holdings and pension plan funds as of the last fiscal year can be found here. The six remaining companies the DSU is demanding Dal divest from are:

  • AIMCo Realty Investors LP
  • BCI QuadReal Realty
  • BCIMC Realty Corp
  • Bank of Montreal
  • Bank of Nova Scotia
  • Toronto-Dominion Bank

Knakriah says the DSU would like to dig through the schools annual financial reports a little more as well as see the updated investment portfolios from this financial year “to understand how big of an impact divestment may have on Dalhousie financial status,” she says. “That's what we’re missing right now.”

In May, a spokesperson for Dal told The Coast by email that the school was one of the first universities in Canada to adopt Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) investment practices, which they did in 2013. Dal is also a member of the Responsible Investment Association, as well as a signatory to the UN Principles of Responsible Investment (UNPRI), says the spokesperson.

Dal does not hold any direct investments in publicly traded assets, the email read, and all of the university’s endowment assets are managed by external investment managers.

“The university’s investment managers are continuously adjusting their strategies based on the integration of environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations.”

The majority of Dal’s endowments, roughly 75% of their publicly traded assets, are in “pooled funds”, while the remaining roughly 25% are in “segregated funds, again managed by external investment managers,” the spokesperson said.

Dal wrote that the “origin of our endowment assets is donated funds; no student tuition dollars are invested; tuition goes to the university’s day to day support of our learning environment.”



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nakriah and the DSU have been holding ongoing biweekly meetings with the school administration as well as the Students for the Liberation of Palestine (SLPK) coalition about disclosure, divestment and reinvestment and paths to achieve these.

So far, they have achieved academic amnesty for students who wish to participate in the student encampment on Dal’s lawn organized by the SLPK and added financial and academic support for Palestinian students, including application fee waivers, admission deposit waivers, expedited access to bursary funding, flexible admission requirements, personalized and trauma-sensitive advising and more, says Knakriah.

Knakriah says that “right now, after ensuring that the Palestinian students are receiving necessary academic and non-academic support, our primary focus is on divestment and the fundraising initiatives.”

Knakriah says the DSU has already initiated fundraising efforts, as an extension of the motion passed in March, in collaboration with Dal “to support Palestinian people and students, and the programs that aid them–we’re anticipating this effort to go public by August.”

As for divestment pushing, Knakriah says the DSU continues to have meetings with the SLPK and Dal “as we look to create support documents to bring to the next board of governors meeting in the fall.”

These support documents, says Knakriah, will be presented to the investment committee, which is a part of the board of governors, and will include five more questions to include in the committee’s annual review process of the university’s external investment managers, who are directly responsible for how the university invests.

“We're working on revising this process to now include geopolitical considerations to help Dalhousie select long-term investment partners that are aligned with our values, at the DSU, as well as Dal’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion,” says Knakriah.

The five new questions are about addressing geopolitical risks, she says, meaning “any type of involvement in apartheid, genocide, ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity…and, if there are approaches taken to address these risks in war-affect regions, whether these companies are doing their due-diligence in addressing these issues and whether our investment managers are working with companies that may have geographic or operational exposures to war-affected areas.

“Lastly, we would like to ask investors if they have any exclusion clauses or statements for companies they work with—and we're specifically talking about weapons in this case, and that's majorly it,” says Knakriah.

click to enlarge Student union president hopes Dal will fulfill divestment before her term is up
Instagram / Dalstudentunion
The current DSU executive is (clockwise from bottom right) president: Mariam Knakriah; vice president (internal): Bianca Morelli; vice president (student life): Ana Patton; vice president (finance & operations): William Jones; and vice president (academic & external): Nick d'Entremont.

These five questions that the DSU drafted are with the university now for feedback, says Knakriah, but says they’re really hoping these questions get integrated to the annual review questions list for the fall. ‘“We know for a fact these questions won't just be helpful for Palestine, but any other country involved in such genocide or apartheid.”

Knakriah says she’s hopeful she can achieve this along with DSU’s demands for full disclosure and divestment before her presidential term is up in April 2025, as a means of continuing the student support she’s already put in place while in office.

“Of course, I’m excited,” says Knakriah about this becoming her legacy. “I’m excited for our students, but also I’m excited to support our brothers and sisters in Palestine, and to set a precedent for other universities in Canada to do so as well.”