On sunny mornings, the soft strumming of a guitar often greets students walking past the “Divestment Office” on the Investment Office’s front lawn on Wyllys Ave.
Just after Spring Break, Students for Ending the War in Iraq (SEWI) set up this unusual and conspicuous headquarters, which consists of two tents, a “Divest from Weapons Contractors” banner and a “Divestment Office” sign that perfectly imitates the “Investment Office” sign.
Those who take the time to seek out the guitar music’s source will come face-to-face with one of the tents’ most dedicated inhabitants—Jacob Dinklage ’11.
Dinklage may not be a formal member of SEWI or any peace group on campus—he prefers to maintain a level of independence in his activism—but he has spent every night in the tents since they were assembled.
“It’s been really enjoyable,” he said. “It’s been nice waking up in the morning to the sun, and many a morning bio class has been skipped because it’s just so nice!”
Dinklage and Emily Caffery ’10, a member of SEWI, both consider the tents an innovative means to encourage ongoing discussion about divestment between SEWI and members of the student body, faculty, administration and even prospective students.
“We wanted to do something fun and interesting and different from the petitions and all of that and provide a place where it’s really possible to interact with the student body,” Dinklage said.
While some passersby merely raise their eyebrows, chuckle or roll their eyes, others stop to discuss divestment with SEWI members and express a wide range of opinions.
“It’s a good way to keep the issue of divestment on people’s minds,” Caffery said. “It’s a place for people to ask questions.”
Students who stop by to express their interest in SEWI’s initiative often inquire about ways of getting involved, at times even asking to stay in the tents. Such requests are invariably met with enthusiasm.
“Several nights ago a DKE brother and someone else stayed in the tent,” Dinklage said. “They were just like, ’Hey, can we stay here?’ and I said, ’Sure, anyone’s allowed to stay.’”
Dinklage strongly believes that you don’t have to dedicate your whole life to a cause to be a part of it.
“It bugs me to no end that there’s this dichotomy between activist and non-activist,” he said. “It’s just not true that if you’re not an activist, you can’t participate at all. It was cool to meet other people who could participate without being totally part of the movement.”
Whether or not the Office of Admission agrees or disagrees with the cause, Dinklage noted that it seems to consider the “Divestment Office” a prime example of dedicated University activism. SEWI has made a particular effort to keep the tents staffed during tours, and Admissions seems to have taken note.
“Tour guides have sort of made stopping by the tents a part of their tour,” Dinklage said. “Some tours do it, others don’t, so I don’t think it’s official, but if someone mentions that they’re interested in activism at the Admissions Office, they refer them directly to the tents.”
The administration in general seems to support SEWI’s project. The group had no difficulties getting permission to pitch its tents. Members have encountered, however, some unsympathetic onlookers.
“The investment officers can be a wee bit snippy when they come in, but they’re friendly for the most part,” Dinklage said. “We say ’hi,’ and we’re building a relationship—one that’s based mostly off of them glaring at us, but you know. We take what we can get.”
Students who disagree with SEWI’s stance on divestment have largely given a wide berth to the tents. Any occasional displays of belligerence towards the protesters have been the result of intoxication.
“One night I heard someone talking drunkenly about how they were angry at protesters,” Dinklage said. “Then they came over to the tent, shook it and shouted ’Weapons Contractors!’ I was amazed by their wit, and so I was really intimidated.”
Caffery explained that Public Safety has warned SEWI to keep the tents staffed on weekend nights, to ensure that such incidents do not lead to vandalism. Otherwise, there have been no safety concerns. Even the recent muggings on campus did not trouble the tent-dwellers. They have witnessed, however, some interesting goings-on just outside the tents.
“I heard a couple break up just outside the tent once,” Dinklage said. “It was kind of intense. They were really angry. It was saddening, but it’s interesting to sort of be a fly on the wall because you can’t tell if someone’s in the tent.”
Caffery reports sitting in the tent one morning when a deliveryman for Bon Appétit came up to her and asked if she was homeless. She tried to explain SEWI’s initiative, pointing at the banner behind her. He handed her five dollars and told her to go buy herself something to eat.
“I was so floored and speechless that I couldn’t think of anything to say, and he just left, so now SEWI has five dollars,” she said.
Caffery and Dinklage both enjoy the general atmosphere at the tents and hope that they will continue to draw attention to the issue of divestment.
“We just hang out there,” Dinklage said. “It’s not like we have a format. We’re totally down to talk to people, and if anyone is interested in staying in the tent, they should just ask. There’s so much room and so many blankets. We’re not there to be a nuisance. We’re there to be inviting and show that we care.”