Swarthmore Mountain Justice, the student group that has aggressively fought for the college to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry, interrupted and took over a Board of Managers meeting last year, and protested outside another one last semester — both times, apparently, to no avail. The college has so far given no indication of wavering on its decision not to invest.
Now, the group is taking a more conciliatory tone in its latest initiative: the Swarthmore College Responsible Endowment Fund, a fund comprised of donations that will be given to the college on the condition that the college agrees to divest and reinvest one percent of its endowment in renewable resources.
“It’s a chance for members of the Swarthmore community to donate to the school that Swarthmore could be and a chance for people to show support for divestment and show the board that just because it said it decided not to divest back in September doesn’t mean we’re going to give up,” said Nathan Graf ‘16, a member of Mountain Justice.
Mountain Justice said their emphasis in the campaign will be on gaining and demonstrating broad support for the cause. “What’s important in this fundraising effort is not the money we raise, but how many donors we engage,” wrote Kate Aronoff, a member of Mountain Justice and a donor to the fund, in an email to the Phoenix. “We’re interested in talking with members of our campus community about the future of Swarthmore in the face of the climate crisis, and envisioning together what the college might look like in 150 years.”
Until the fund is granted to the college, ten percent of it is being held in local banks for immediate use supporting sustainable community efforts. So far, the fund has received 46 donations totaling almost $1,000.
“We had an unexpectedly positive response from all the alums we’ve reached out to so far, and nearly all the alums I talked to were excited to contribute,” Graf said. “A couple mentioned that they had written personal letters to the board or President Chopp urging them to divest as well.”
The Board of Managers is not participating in the Responsible Endowment Fund but has said that they work to support environmental sustainability in other ways. The college says it will begin participation in a conference on alternative investment possibilities. In addition, on the questionnaire given to candidates applying to manage funds, a question will be added about personal environmentally sustainable behavior, the college says.
New Director of Sustainability Laura Cacho will also continue working towards implementing the Climate Action Plan, created by the Climate Action Plan Committee, which dictates that the college will increase sustainable behaviors and achieve carbon neutrality by 2035.
“There’s a lot of individual responsibility in this arena as well and we all need to be both conscious of the issues and seeking ways to take down our own carbon footprint,” said Vice President for College and Community Relations and Executive Assistant to the President Maurice Eldridge ‘61. “People would like to do actions and see immediate results — well, we’ve done a lot since we’ve started this. We have probably cut our consumption by 50 percent. Now it gets harder. How do we more? We have to do better composting and recycling and that means everybody.”
Student groups at other colleges, such as Pitzer, Haverford and Northwestern are also participating in the Responsible Endowment Fund campaign.
“We also hope that, given Swarthmore Mountain Justice’s position of leadership in the national divestment movement, our launching the fund can serve as a model for some of the other over 300 divestment campaigns across the United States and Canada,” wrote Aronoff. “Reinvestment is a crucial flip-side to divestment, and is a model — like divestment — that we’re interested in spreading.”