Middlebury College must rise to new challenge

This week’s writer is Vignesh Ramachandran, a resident of Fremont, Calif., and a first year at Middlebury College. Ramachandran is a core organizer with Divest Middlebury and a member of the communications team of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network.
Whose Side Are You On?
Twenty-nine years ago, the Middlebury College Board of Trustees stood on the right side of history when they voted to divest from the South African Apartheid. The college was one of more than 150 campuses across the country to divest from companies doing business in South Africa, the leading ethical issue of the time. Now, climate change is the defining ethical issue of our generation. Today, Middlebury College is at a crossroads. It has the chanceto once again stand on the right side of history and divest from fossil fuel companies, or maintain the status quo.
Middlebury College prides itself on its practices of environmental stewardship and its innovations in institutional sustainability. In 1965, the college started the first environmental studies program, helping to kickstart an era of environmental policy and legislation the likes of which our nation had never seen before.
The college has been an incubator for programs of recycling and composting far before these issues reached national prominenceandfostered the growth of 350.org, one of the fastest growing environmental justice organizations in the world. The plan togo carbon neutral by the end of 2016 is also evidence to show how the college is ahead of the curve when it comes to environmental issues.
Despite all of this, the college’s investment in fossil fuel companies jeopardizes its reputation as a champion of climate justice by profiting from the exploitation of the environment and marginalized communities. Emeritus Professor of Religion at Middlebury College Steven Rockefeller (yes, a member of the Rockefeller family that made their fortune on oil), wrote during his time here that the college should “avoid investments in businesses and products that are inherently unhealthy for human beings or that threaten serious environmental harm.”
Rockefeller wrote these words 20 years ago, yet they still remain true today. As long as the college’s endowment is invested in fossil fuel companies like Exxon and BP, it is actively contributing to a system that threatens the future of our planet.
From UC Berkeley to Harvard, students on campuses around the country are asking their administrators whose side they are on: the side of the fossil fuel companies who block all our attempts at meaningful climate policy and insist on extracting and burning all the fossil fuels on Earth, or that of the new generation calling for a just transition to a greener future. Arrests of students at Yale University and University of Mary Washington show administrators that this fight is about something much bigger than the institutions we attend. And people are noticing. Just in the past month, Syracuse University, the Guardian Media Group, and Prince Charles have committed to move to fossil-free investments.
With the quest for carbon neutrality nearing its completion, we have to ask, are we truly carbon neutral if we are invested in fossil fuels? It is time for Middlebury to rise up and once again do what is right over what is easy. It is time to change the system that perpetuates social and economic inequalities.
The environmental movement is always evolving, and we must constantly look for new tools to tackle these complex problems and engage more groups. It has shown its ability to bridge gaps of race, gender, generation and wealth as it has spread across the world. Climate justice is a global issue, one that affects all people.
It is the responsibility of the Middlebury community and the Middlebury College student body to remind the college who they represent. Only together will community members and college students have a strong voice in this conversation. Middlebury College must be held accountable for its promises of sustainable practices and social consciousness.
We cannot stand as bystanders as the college supports an industry built on the backs of marginalized communities and crumbling ecosystems. So the question remains: whose side are YOU on?

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