canada africa partner reservation In the 1980s he led student protests. Now he is a dean of a university

In the 1980s he led student protests. Now he is a dean of a university

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The term divestment has come up a lot in recent weeks as pro-Palestinian students across the country demand that their universities divest assets from companies that do business with Israel.

Forty years ago, there was another divestment movement, as students wanted to end the minority rule known as apartheid in South Africa. UC Berkeley was a focal point of that movement, and their student body president, Pedro Noguera, was also one of the leaders of the anti-apartheid movement there.

Noguera is now dean of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, one of several college campuses with ongoing demonstrations over the war in Gaza. He spoke to Weekend edition Sunday host Ayesha Rascoe on his role as leader of the student protests at UC Berkeley against apartheid in the 1980s.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Interview highlights

Ayesha Rascoe: Take us back to Berkeley in the 1980s. How did the idea of ​​divestment come about?

Pedro Noguera: So there was a push that actually started in the 1970s, but continued to develop, that there should be sanctions against the South African government, because the United States and many other countries and companies were doing business in South Africa, which in in fact involved support for the South African government. the apartheid government. So the idea of ​​sanctions led to the idea that we need to push companies to divest from South Africa. And many universities then began to look at their portfolios and many large church religious organizations did the same. And we stuck with it. We thoroughly studied the portfolio and began asking questions during Board of Regents meetings about the way we managed university interests. Over time, it led to a real critical analysis of the university’s responsibility to invest in companies that upheld its values.

Sproul Hall at the University of California, Berkeley.

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Sproul Hall at the University of California, Berkeley.

Rascoe: Tell us how the protests grew and what your role was.

Noguera: The protest started with marches. Then we had a big sit-in in Sproul Hall, which is kind of like the main administration building. One hundred and sixty-eight people were arrested, including myself, and that set off a series of events. I think what was really important was our organization, because it was not limited to a small number of activists. We were able to gain support from students with fraternities and sororities, graduates, undergraduates, as well as faculty and staff on campus. So our numbers were so much bigger and we did a lot of education work, we taught, and that really helped because a lot of people didn’t understand South Africa, didn’t understand what divestment meant. And so education and organization were really a crucial part of the work.

Rascoe: How did the Berkeley administration respond to the protests? Like I said, at one point the police were called in and what did you think about that?

Noguera: Well, we expected that and we were always non-violent. We have always had an actual dialogue with the administration. They were not happy with what we were doing, but we tried to assure them that this was not about destroying or tearing down the university. The point was to make the point political. I think we understood that it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon because they were quite dismissive. Initially, they didn’t believe students could play a role in determining where they invested their stocks. But we insisted for more than two years and it took time, but in the end we won.

Rascoe: So fast forward to today. You are now dean at USC, which, unlike Berkeley, is not known for its history of protest. What do you see now compared to what you saw as a student at Berkeley?

Noguera: It’s really different because we’ve never dealt with a pro-apartheid group. There is a pro-Israel group, a pro-Zionist group. There are many Jewish teachers and students who view the protest as anti-Semitic. I don’t see it that way. And I know many Jewish friends and colleagues who don’t see it that way. The other thing that was different is that this group, the ones who built these encampments, don’t seem to be doing much in the way of education and organization. And so they are quite small, which makes them easier to isolate.

Rascoe: What do you now tell your students who come to you? They know your history and they’ll say, what advice do you have for us if we want to get involved?

Noguera: My advice is always be careful who you are out there with. There are elements that are agitators, that are provocative. You really have to be careful because they will distract the message of property destruction and violence from the focus of the protest. Then also build alliances with groups that share your interests – religious groups, church groups, other students, because isolation will limit movement. And I see that happening on a lot of these campuses now.

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