Opinion: Students advocate for divestment
Students around the world are rising and we will no longer accept silence. Today, the Investure Schools Coalition for Fossil Fuel Divestment sent a letter to each of our colleges’ presidents requesting a meeting between administrators and representatives from our divestment campaigns. We are sending this letter in conjunction with the National Alumni Escalation for Fossil Fuel Divestment and are requesting that our presidents respond by the culmination of Harvard Heat Week for Fossil Fuel Divestment on April 17.
Logistics of a commingled fund
The Investure Schools Coalition consists of the divestment campaigns from Barnard College in New York, Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, Middlebury College in Vermont, and Smith College in Massachusetts. All of our colleges endowments are managed by an investment firm called Investure, LLC, and students at all of our colleges are working to divest our endowments from fossil fuels. We are in a unique position because our endowments are mixed in a commingled fund along with a total of 13 other institutions, which means that our money is treated as single pool and individual schools have very limited control over how the money is invested.
In 2010, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund — previously a client of Investure — and Middlebury College worked with Investure to create the Sustainable Investments Initiative, an alternative pool of sustainable investments within Investure. Both institutions contributed money to the pool, but the structure did not allow for full divestment.
After attempts to negotiate full divestment, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund left Investure on Sept. 22, 2014, to divest their $843 million endowment through a different investment firm. Investure’s unwillingness to negotiate divestment with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund showed us that coming to the table as individual clients would not be likely to succeed. Our circumstances made it essential for us to work together and to pursue divestment as a united coalition. This coalition was founded out of necessity, but from it has grown a commitment to support each other through the divestment process and the opportunity to leverage our collective voice to amplify our unified message .
We believe in the power of unity, and are coordinating with our faculty and alumni to add their voices to call for divestment.
Alumni support for this shift
This week alumni are returning to their respective institutions in droves to sign divestment petitions and the “Long Haul Organizing Pledge,” engineered by the new Alumni Divestment Network. In addition, alumni groups have established escrow funds in which they can provide donations that will only be made accessible to their respective institutions when divestment is completed. These actions attest to the dedication and endurance of alumni in the divestment movement. Zach Drennen, Middlebury class of 2013, writes, “In a time when money is legally considered speech, continuing to put our money in fossil fuel companies means stating clearly that we do not take climate change seriously. Middlebury rightly values its image as an environmental leader, and it is past time for its actions to meet that image.”
Through our organizing efforts, we have seen the power of unity within the climate justice movement, and we are dedicated to standing in solidarity with divestment campaigns across the country and world. We are not alone in this. Other divestment campaigns, have formed coalitions to support each other, including the Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network and the Ivy League Fossil Fuel Divestment Coalition.
As students unite in the call for divestment, our colleges cannot continue business as usual any longer. It is time to take action, and we hope that our coalition will help bring students and administrators together and harness our full potential to make material changes for a sustainable future. As we continue our efforts we will stand in solidarity with our fellow students and adhere to our guiding principles: We believe that climate change is a threat to the livelihood of current and future generations. We believe the assumption that fossil fuels are a necessary part of a stable investment portfolio is outdated and false. We believe that our colleges should see the sustainability of our planet as integral to our academic and future success; for our future and the future of the planet are one and the same.
We hope to begin an open dialogue with administrators to create a mutually agreed upon strategy for divestment. Colleges and institutions are divesting from fossil fuels across the world and we are calling on our colleges to join the movement and be leaders in preserving the planet for their students.
Please support us by joining the student and alumni network at www.studentsdivest.org or by writing letters to your college administration and postponing all donations to your alma mater until it has divested, and signing each school’s Fossil Free petition: Barnard, https://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/petitions/search?q=barnard; Dickinson, https://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/petitions/dickinson-college, Middlebury, https://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/petitions/middlebury-college; Smith, https://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/petitions/smith-college.
Krista Karlson, class of 2017
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