Divestment from Fossil Fuels: The Current State of the Campaign at Smith and at Large

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Andrea Schmid '17Assistant News Editor

On April 9, 48 students from Fossil Free Yale held a peaceful protest in their school’s president’s office. Calling for the administration to reopen the conversation about divesting from fossil fuels, the students quietly entered the offices, handed out flowers and asked to speak with Yale University President Peter Salovey.

Salovey addressed them briefly and informed students about administrative channels that exist for students interested in pursuing divestment. This protest took place after Fossil Free Yale’s two-year effort to collaborate and discuss ways for the university to divest from the fossil fuel industry through the same administrative channels the president referred to that afternoon. In August 2014, Yale announced its refusal to divest and instead offered a series of alternative sustainability initiatives. While the organization continued to attempt to work with administration into the fall, arguing that none of these alternatives addressed the social justice issues at stake in the fossil fuel industry, they received no response from the administration leading up to the protest.

On the day of the protest, those who refused to leave the administrative headquarters peacefully and willingly consented to be arrested , stating that they would not leave until the administration agreed to reopen the discussion of divestment on Yale’s campus.

“Yale preferred to arrest its students [rather] than re-engage in the conversation,” said Fossil Free Yale project manager Mitch Barrows after the protest.

Two weeks ago, Jeffrey Sachs gave a lecture on his most recent publication, “The Age of Sustainable Development” as part of Smith’s Presidential Lecture series. At the end of lecture, Siiri Bigalke, an environmental science and policy major and member of Divest Smith College, asked: “What is your view on the divestment of fossil fuels campaign, and how important do you think it is for universities and colleges to divest from the fossil fuel industry?”

Sachs responded with full support of the divestment from fossil fuels and reflected on the essential role academic institutions play as role models for their students. “As institutions dedicated to progress and advanced learning, universities need to be examples of socially responsible and ethical economic practices,” Sachs said.

A large number of universities, institutions and cities have divested from fossil fuels already.

“When it comes to working with administration and mobilizing to push for a change in policy, a lot of organizations on campus look at what Divest has done in the past as a model,” an active member of Smith’s organization recently said. This year, Divest Smith has progressed from asking President McCartney to be their Valentine to forming strong coalitions with faculty and the Student Government Association. In light of the organization’s efforts to work with the administration, President McCartney scheduled a meeting with some members of Divest Smith on April 16.

Recently, divestment campaigns at Smith, Middlebury College, Dickinson College and Barnard College collaborated to write a letter to their presidents regarding institutional investment in the fossil fuel industry. All of these colleges have pooled their investments in Investure, a private investment company.

“Divest Smith College is excited about the new coalition between our campaign, Barnard, Dickinson and Middlebury. We have asked that our presidents collaborate to create fossil fuel-free endowments with Investure or through alternative means. Our goal is to end profiting from global injustice, and we will continue to pursue this goal until Smith has committed to full divestment from fossil fuels.”

Indeed, members of Divest Smith have expressed determination to collaborate with President McCartney and work toward the campaign’s goals of sustainable activism on campus.