Divest Smith College sits in solidarity with UMass Divestment

Photo by Gabriella J. Zutrau '16 | Members of Divest Smith College demonstrate their solidarity with UMass students’ efforts.  

Emily Kowalik '18 Assistant Opinions Editor

Students from Divest Smith College participated in a sit-in at the University of Massachusetts Amherst last week to demonstrate their solidarity with the UMass students’ widely-publicized divestment efforts.

UMass students held sit-ins to “divest the rest” of their university’s endowment divested from fossil fuel. Gabbi Zutrau’16, lead strategist for Divest Smith College, said that her group is “very impressed by the tenacious and important work that the organizers of the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign are doing right now.”

Smith College Divest has been working to accomplish goals similar to the UMass students; they also wish Smith would divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry. Zutrau feels that the group has been able to accomplish a great deal thus far by working with the administration.

Divest Smith College’s support of UMass students began after a sit-in that lead to the arrests of several UMass students. According to an article on MassLive, students at UMass staged four day long sit-ins last week as part of the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign. The sit-ins in the Whitmore Administration building are one of many efforts the divestment student group at UMass has staged to achieve their goal of having the university divest its foundation’s endowment funds from the top 200 fossil fuel companies due to concerns about the effect of fossil fuels on climate change.

MassLive also reported that during last Monday’s protest many students left the sit-in after they were told they would have the opportunity to speak with UMass Board of Trustees Chairman Victor Woolridge and President Martin Meehan by conference call. However, students did not receive the response they were seeking, as university officials said they would not agree to the students’ demand for full divestment from fossil fuel by 2021.

According to the Boston Globe, the administration’s response fueled an even stronger opposition from students, with many protesters refusing police demands to vacate Whitmore on Tuesday. That night, UMass police arrested 15 activists who refused to leave. UMass police have since stated that the students will be charged with trespassing.  34 students have been arrested in total.

The Boston Globe also reported that over 50 UMass students showed their solidarity by chanting in support of the arrested students as they were being led from Whitmore last Tuesday night. Many students across the Five Colleges have since also demonstrated their backing of divestment by voicing their support of the efforts of the UMass students.

While many students support UMass’s divestment efforts including the protest efforts that lead to the student arrests, some Smith students are concerned that the UMass sit-in events will cast a negative light on the divestment efforts at other campuses. Julianna Calabrese ’18 expressed the concern that, if the university were to divest now it would “give the sense that UMass is giving into the protesters just so they’ll stop protesting.”

“UMass should divest because the administration and student body genuinely believe that fossils fuels are bad, not because they’re tired of students protesting,” Calabrese said.

While not all Smith students feel that the arrest of UMass students was beneficial to the divestment campaign, many have voiced their support for the divestment effort on the whole. “It’s important for the school to invest in other things,” said Stephanie Capsuto ’18.

Other Smith students are proud of the measures UMass students have taken and have demonstrated their support for the students’ efforts by joining in on other protests and demonstrations.

Divest Smith College has not yet formally asked the Board of Trustees to divest however, and therefore protesters have not received an official response as to whether Smith College will make efforts to divest.

At this point in time, Zutrau and Divest Smith College have not felt it necessary, as Zutrau puts it, to “escalate to tactics of nonviolent direct action” through sit-ins or other types of protests as UMass students have done. The group has, however, attempted to gain support for their cause through various events such as demonstrations and rallies. These events have had a large turnout and Zutrau feels that the community is largely in support of the divestment effort.

Zutrau feels that, if Divest Smith College were to escalate its actions, they would be able to gather a large base of supporters behind them.

“We are confident that if we ever called our campus to action, we would get an enormous amount of support,” Zutrau said in an email to The Sophian, “During previous divestment campaigns, (like the one to divest from companies tied to South African apartheid), Smith students came out in droves to sit-in [at] College Hall to demand that Smith align its money with its morals.”