Senate resolution proposed for Northeastern to cut ties with military-industrial complex, referenda items discussed


Carmen Phillips-Alvarez

The Student Government Association office at 332 Curry Student Center. SGA elections opened March 10 and will close March 17. Students can vote through the Student Hub portal.

Renée Abbott, news staff

The Student Government Association, or SGA, met virtually Feb. 22 with about 75 people in attendance to discuss three referenda and a senate resolution at a town hall meeting. Referendum items included gym subsidies, fossil fuel divestment, Swipe2Care reform and SafeZone app updates, and the resolution calls upon the university to sever ties to corporations that are part of the military-industrial complex. 

A senate resolution is legislation that is forwarded to the president of the university and is a call to action concerning a matter that affects the student body, as described in the SGA bylaws

Resolution SR-SP-23-104 — presented and written by fourth-year biology major Kyler Shinkle-Stolar of the Progressive Student Association; Amanda Bell, a fourth-year data science and behavioral neuroscience combined major; and Claire Wang, a fourth-year computer science and mathematics combined major — calls for the university to cut its ties with and divest from defense contractors. The resolution cites that Northeastern has committed to promote social justice and has a wealth of resources, money, power and influence. 

The resolution also calls for the university to stop holding recruitment events with defense contractor companies, including its longtime supporter Raytheon Technologies, which has not only financially supported Northeastern for decades, but also has its own amphitheater on the university campus. 

In the past, students have protested Raytheon’s connection to Northeastern. One protest was held Tuesday, Feb. 21, though there have been many in Northeastern’s history. The resolution calls for Northeastern to stop holding recruiting fairs with Raytheon and other defense contractors and instead encourage students to pursue career options with companies dedicated to a greater social good. 

In addition to the global war crimes and humanitarian crises in Yemen attributed to defense contractors in partnership with Northeastern, the authors also cited pollution and environmental concerns as reasons to break ties from these companies. 

Similar to a fossil fuel divestment referendum introduced at the meeting, this resolution also calls for Northeastern to make its endowments public and transparent so students know exactly where investments are made. Finally, the authors call for an end to defense contractor officials serving on Northeastern’s board. Tom Phillips, who was president of Raytheon, was on the university’s board of trustees at one point, as was a former vice president of Raytheon. There is currently no one serving on the board who works for a defense contracting company. 

Senators raised various concerns about the resolution. For example, senator Kathan Ramnath, a third-year business administration and economics combined major, raised the fact that defense companies work on various projects and have numerous departments that have nothing to do with weaponry. Others expressed concerns that many engineering students rely on co-ops at Raytheon for their careers. 

Shinkle-Stolar assured the senate that people can still choose to pursue co-ops at those companies, the resolution just calls for Northeastern to stop partnering with them and holding recruitment fairs. Shinkle-Stolar argued that even if they are not working on the weapons, they are working for a company that contributes to mass atrocities and human rights violations. Additionally, Shinkle-Stolar emphasized the fact that besides creating weapons, many defense contractors lobby the government and inadvertently promote war, which he said he did not cover in the resolution text itself. 

“It’s on the university to create more opportunities for students so that they don’t have to work for these companies that have blood on their hands, and I would argue that losing a few connections or co-op positions in the meantime is definitely worth it when the alternative is continuing to support companies that are profiting off of so much harm,” Shinkle-Stolar said. 

Other senators also raised concerns about the line of determining ethics considering so many companies may contribute to global atrocities in a variety of ways. In addition to proposing a potential panel for non-SGA students to decide, Shinkle-Stolar responded that this would be an opportunity for the university to someday break ties from other problematic corporations.

“Part of this resolution is to give some precedence for breaking with companies that are committing these human rights abuses in general,” Shinkle-Stolar said. 

The senate will discuss and vote on the resolution at an upcoming senate meeting in March. 

Four referenda were also presented at the meeting. They will be voted on by the student body on the general ballot along with votes for student body president. In order for a referendum to make it on the general ballot, it needs 750 signatures from students. 

As outlined in the SGA Direct Elections Manual, a referendum is something the student body votes on. It can be a call from the Northeastern administration to act, a call from SGA to act or a sense of the student body. 

The first referendum, sponsored by the Huskies Environmental Action Team, or HEAT, Sunrise Northeastern and the Progressive Student Alliance, calls for Northeastern to divest from fossil fuels. According to the referendum, this question was raised and voted on by SGA back in 2014, though no substantial change was made on behalf of the university. The referendum calls for transparency on endowments, quarterly updates and a more clear explanation of the 2016 decision to invest $25 million into “investments with a focus on sustainability.” 

Third-year environmental studies major Jonathan Bacdayan presented the referendum and explained how the current support of fossil fuels is out of line with Northeastern’s broader mission. 

“We believe that the state of play here at Northeastern favors divestment much more now than it did then, and we believe that the more we can bring this issue into the student consciousness and the more we can get it in front of administrators, the more that we will have the power to change things here,” Bacdayan said. 

Second-year health science and psychology combined major Maria Graham and first-year media and screen studies and English combined major Armaan Sarao from the SGA Student Services committee presented the next referendum, which suggested improved communication, transparency and resources on the SafeZone app. The referendum was sponsored by the SGA Public Safety Task Force within the SGA Student Services committee. The four main goals, as outlined in the operative clauses section of the referendum, are a more refined emergency and first aid button with more specific options, a user-friendly resource and contact page, a complete integration of the SafeZone app into the Student Hub and a notification series about NUPD sponsored events. 

“Safety is our utmost priority and we have to do something to come up with a more safe and streamlined application that will help students in need,” Sarao said. 

The third referendum was presented by Adrean Valverde, a first-year linguistics and psychology combined major representing the Northeastern Young Democratic Socialists Association’s No Hungry Huskies Campaign. The referendum calls for a change to the current dining plans to make it more affordable to students and more on par with other universities’ rates. It also calls for an improvement to the Swipe2Care Program, so that, instead of having to manually send over unused swipes, students can opt in to an automatic donation system. 

Finally, Ryan Lyubimov, a second-year political science and economics combined major, and Charlie Zhang, a third-year ​​sociology and international business combined major, of the SGA Student Services committee presented the last referendum on creating a gym subsidy plan for off-campus students to help alleviate crowding in gyms. 

Upon surveying students, Lyubimov and Zhang found there was a need to address the density issues at gyms such as Marino and SquashBusters. Senators raised questions about what qualifies as off-campus, which gyms would be participating and how this would impact students’ access to intramural sports. The authors clarified that the plan is in the development phase, and they are merely indicating intention and gauging student support with the ballot question.

Editor’s note: This story was updated March 7 at 5:49 p.m. to correct a spelling inaccuracy and a student’s year.