Students, faculty gather to urge divestment from fossil fuels
Approximately 70 Whitman students and faculty gathered on the steps of Memorial earlier this evening to ask Whitman to divest from fossil fuels.
“Our thought is that by divesting from these companies is we can destabilize the social support for fossil fuels and invest in other sustainable forms of energy,” said junior Claire Meints, who is one of the leaders of the divestment campaign.
The divestment campaign is part of a national Fossil Free campaign organized by 350.org, a national organization which works to raise awareness of climate change and encourage action.
“To me, divestment is a very practical and symbolic gesture. Considering that Whitman brands itself as an environmentally conscious campus, it seems hypocrtical to invest in fossil fuel companies,” said junior Helen Angell, who participated in the demonstration.
After the demonstration, the four students leaders of the campaign met with Treasurer Peter Harvey to discuss the feasibility of divestment.
Harvey said the meeting went well, and that his main role was facilitating a conversation between student leaders and Whitman’s trustees, who are ultimately responsible for investment decisions. The trustees will be on campus next week for their regular February meeting.
Harvey said that divestment is complicated because Whitman’s endowment is spread across a number of different managers, each of whom invest it in funds which may hold small pieces of hundreds of different companies.
While he said the decision was ultimately up to trustess, he questioned whether divestment was the best way to address climate change.
“I have conversations with students every year about, ‘Why don’t we divest from fossil fuels, or … companies that violate child labor laws,” he said. The actual divestment process, however, would require the college to change its entire strategy for managing the endowment.
Still, student leaders are optimistic that they can successfully change college policy.
“We’re directly supporting companies with our money and, really, money is power,” said first-year Erika Longino, one of the student organizers. “I’m in support of pulling out of fossil fuel companies. It’s really difficult to do, so we need a lot of support to do so.”
For a more in-depth look at Whitman’s divestment campaign, including a list of colleges that have divested from fossil fuels, please see our article from January 24, 2013. Shelly Le contributed additional reporting.