Swarthmore's independent campus newspaper since 1881

Tag archive


Some pessimism about divestment

in Op-Eds/Opinions/Uncategorized by

Sunrise has had a good week. SGO recently announced that they will invest surplus funds from the student activity budget into BlackRock, an investment fund that prioritizes environmental sustainability and refuses to invest in fossil fuels. While this is not really “divestment” as Sunrise claims, since the money wasn’t invested into fossil fuels in the first place, it’s a good opportunity to talk about the larger issues of divestment that so frequently come up at Swarthmore. Taking strong action to combat climate change is important, and divestment can be a step towards greener institutions and communities, but it has serious limitations.

The first and most important point about divestment is that it has virtually no concrete effect. While institutions of higher education like Swarthmore control enormous amounts of money in their endowments, they pale in comparison to the total capitalization of the fossil fuel industry: 60 trillion dollars worldwide. For reference, the total endowments of every university in the United States make up less than 1 percent of that number — and each school has only a fraction of its endowment invested in fossil fuels. The divestment of such a miniscule amount of equity only leads to its purchase by investors who don’t care that the stocks are in fossil fuels.

There are a few opportunity costs to this course of action, the first being that by divesting, the divester loses all sway with the company in question. Instead of, for example, forming a bloc with similarly inclined investors and pushing for the company to shift away from fossil fuels, divestment leaves the green side out in the cold. Better to stay in, with access to information about the workings of the company and lines of communication with other investors who can make a boardroom push. The resources and institutional knowledge that fossil fuel grants have in research and development can and sometimes are hugely important in developing green technologies. In areas ranging from carbon capture to efficient power storage to biofuels, fossil fuel firms have the ability and — sometimes — the wherewithal to pursue new solutions. And a diversified, dynamic approach to research and development is likelier to be more successful than efforts at top-down investment (see the U.S. government’s disastrous investment in Solyndra).

It’s also needlessly reductive — there are many different types of fossil fuels and ways to produce them, and some are much better than others. Oil is cleaner and less destructive to extract and transport than coal, for example. A pipeline is a lot less likely to spill than a truck or a train is to crash, burns no fuel for transport, and is less ecologically destructive than new rail or road systems, according to a study by the Canadian Fraser Institute. And natural gas, which has led to most of the growth in American energy over the past decade (and a large part of our economic recovery in the Midwest, creating 750,000 jobs), is far cleaner than both. According to Brad Hager, the director of MIT’s Earth Resources Laboratory, it actually reduced our carbon footprint. While gas is by no means a solution to climate change, it is far preferable to other sources that would otherwise supply power green energy still cannot. Wind, solar, and geothermal energy still suffer from serious problems with location, intermittency, and storage; nuclear energy is almost impossible to get off the ground politically.

Campaigns for divestment can also sidestep the problems of consumption. The reason that firms still mine or drill or frack for fossil fuels is because there is a persistent demand for them, which divestment is incapable of addressing. And in developing countries, the problem is both more pronounced and more open to solutions. While countries like India, China, and Brazil will have to deal with population growth, greater industrialization and their accompanying emissions, they also have a more leeway to build greener infrastructure, due to having significantly less existing energy and power infrastructure in the first place. However, it’s just not feasible for fossil fuels to be taken out of the equation completely: we can’t even do that in the U.S. yet.

Governments that are in the process of trying to lift millions of people out of poverty are going to have to use fossil fuels alongside green energy. Trying to incentivize less harmful fossil fuels like shale gas, using safer modes of transport like pipelines, and encouraging companies like Shell that invest in clean energy systems and advocate for action on climate change, are the best methods for dealing with the “mixed” economy we’re stuck with for the near future.

All of this is not to say divestment has no effect. Divestment is a symbolic action. Individual decisions to consume less, to advocate for action against climate change, and work for innovative solutions may come from this smaller action. I just worry that amid all the noise of sit-ins, protest, and public statements, we’ll lose sight of how much else actually needs to be done. There is nothing wrong with a symbol, but we can’t let it get in the way of action.

Sunrise, SGO, SBC to invest surplus money into a fossil-free fund

in News by

On Friday afternoon around 12:30 p.m., the Student Government Organization, Student Budget Committee, and Sunrise Swarthmore gathered in Parrish Parlors to announce that they would be working together to invest unused money from student clubs into a fossil-free fund. This fund will be run by BlackRock, a large investment management firm with a commitment to long-term social and environmental sustainability.

The event was attended by about 20 students and faculty members. It was moderated by Aru Shiney-Ajay ’20 and included a line up of speakers from SGO, SBC, and Sunrise Swarthmore who support this initiative. One of the speakers was Sunrise member Jissel Becerra Reyes ’20 who shared a personal story about how climate change affected her family during Hurricane Irma.

“This anger is what drives me here today,” Becerra said.

The event in Parrish was organized to coincide with a Board of Managers meeting taking place in Kohlberg Hall. September Porras Payea ’20, one of the leaders of Sunrise Swarthmore, describes the event as both a celebration and a reminder to the Board that divestment is still a priority for many students on campus.

“We felt this event was especially necessary to both celebrate the action of SGO as a representative of the student body as well as to bring divestment back as a focus of our campaign,” Porras said.

Sunrise Swarthmore leaders publicized the investment of student money from the Swarthmore Capital Expenditure account as a small victory for students advocating for divestment. In a press release, they explained how investing unused student activity fees into a fossil free fund is a win for the divestment campaign.

“In a huge victory for the divestment campaign, SGO has announced that they are divesting all $600,000 of student-controlled money from fossil fuels … SGO’s decision reiterates where we stand — and it creates a new impetus for the Board. Students have chosen to divest our funds. We call on the Board of Managers to lead with us and divest from fossil fuels.”

Sunrise Swarthmore, previously Mountain Justice, has been pressuring the board to divest the endowment from fossil fuels since the group was founded seven years ago. In 2015, after a student sit-in organized by MJ, the Board announced their firm decision not to divest. This decision was based a policy created in 1991 that the Board would not take social issues into consideration when discussing the budget. The Board made clear their 2015 decision not to divest by creating the sustainability and investment policy, which asserts the Board’s decision “not to divest from fossil fuels, either on a full or partial basis.”

Sunrise Swarthmore’s most recent attempt to get the board to divest from fossil fuels occurred last spring, when they launched an SGO referendum for students to vote on a plan for partial divestment. The referendum demonstrated that, of the 880 students who voted, 80.5 percent of students supported divesting from fossil fuels. The Board of Managers and President Valerie Smith responded to the referendum by re-affirming the Board’s 2015 decision not to divest, citing the sustainability and investment policy.

Nevertheless, Porras expressed Sunrise’s excitement for their collaboration with SGO and what the partnership means for the divestment movement on campus.

“We are inspired by the passion of the student body when organizing events like these. The initiative taken by SGO to keep student funds fossil-free was exciting for us, and it has been amazing to create a strong partnership through both of our forces. Furthermore, discussions on campus, from classrooms to friends in Sharples, around divestment has been growing, and to be able to bring the fight back to campus has been an exciting moment for us,” she said.

For SGO, the referendum is one reason why they are collaborating with Sunrise Swarthmore to invest student funds into a fossil-free account, as the referendum is seen as a representation of the student voice. They explained that this partnership with Sunrise Swarthmore aligns with one of their many new objectives for this spring. For example, SGO co-president Nancy Yuan ’19 cited how SGO also sees the investment into a divested fund as a method of eliminating the activities fee in the future. She asserted SGO’s role in advocating for students while also establishing a lasting impact on campus.

“As SGO, we are here to support students and amplify voices for students. We really want to be the student voices,” Yuan said, “and lower tuition is something all students can support. In terms of institutional change, this is something we can really change.”

Yuan explained how this fund works and why SGO supports the fund as a more fiscally responsible option.

“At the end of the year, if clubs don’t use all the money, it goes into the Swarthmore Capital Expenditure account. Right now, the money is just sitting in a bank account losing value because of inflation. The smarter thing to do is invest this money.” Yuan said. “We support investing it because it is a smarter use of student money, and over 30 to 40 years-time, it should eliminate the need for the student activities fee.”

While the Board will not divest the endowment from fossil fuels, SGO and Sunrise are asserting a student approach to divestment; they are advocating for investing surplus student activity funds from the Swarthmore Capital Expenditure account into a fossil-free fund that three members of the Board of Managers established in 2015 with BlackRock, a socially-conscious investment fund.

SGO hopes to use the returns from the fund to eliminate the activities fee for future students, which currently costs each student $398 per academic year. By investing in a fossil-free fund, SGO and Sunrise feel they are upholding both economic sensibility and social justice.

Grant Brown ’21, another student from Sunrise Swarthmore, explained why investing the surplus student money in fossil free funds is necessary for upholding environmental justice.

“Divestment represents a true commitment to the core values that found and sustain Swarthmore,” he said. “It shows that we are still committed to equity, selflessness, and acting on ethical principles no matter the pressures from external influences.”

Yuan also mentioned the need to affirm social justice in our actions, explaining how investing in a fossil-free fund is one way of modeling this value.

“Since BlackRock is one of the largest socially-conscious investment funds, it makes a lot of economic sense,” Yuan said.

Ethan Chapman ’19 views the investment of student activity funds into a fossil-free account as a positive action taken by student organizations that demonstrates the interests of students to the Board.

“I am happy to see school organizations acting responsibly for a change. All that really matters is convincing the Board to address its conflicting interests,” he said.

As the semester continues, Swarthmore Sunrise and SGO plan to continue to collaborate on the BlackRock investment of student funds. Yet, both groups will also continue to further their individual missions as well. For Swarthmore Sunrise, this means further pressuring institutions and policy makers to reinvest in just solutions to the climate crisis. They hope to continue to organize around divestment while also engaging in political action off-campus to elect officials who are dedicated to fighting climate change.  For SGO, this means carrying out the wishes of students, including strengthening their relationship with affinity groups and encouraging groups to use more of the activities budget through a SEPTA ticket program.

Students Lead on Divestment — When Will the Board?

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Seven years ago, a group of Swarthmore students took a trip to West Virginia, where they witnessed the brutal injustice of mountaintop coal removal. Horrified in the face of the climate crisis, they decided to take action and launched the world’s first fossil fuel divestment campaign — Mountain Justice. Divestment aims to move investments out of the fossil fuel industry in order to stigmatize the industry socially and politically. It is immoral for an institution like Swarthmore, which prides itself on social responsibility, to continue to invest in companies that threaten our futures and the safety of our communities.  

Fast forward seven years, and fossil fuel divestment campaigns have spread across the world. By 2016, the third annual Arabella Report revealed over 688 institutions across 76 countries had committed to divesting over 6 trillion dollars. Recently, New York City chose to divest from fossil fuels, following on the heels of the Rockefeller Brothers. Institutions ranging from Yale and Columbia to Pitzer and Barnard have divested as well. Divestment is gaining momentum and cannot be ignored. As these victories pile up, they send a clear message: the fossil fuel industry has outlived its welcome, and the end of its era is here.

The clearest evidence of the movement’s success comes from the fossil fuel industry itself. The Minerals Council of Australia, a coal industry group, is attempting to render divestment illegal, claiming that it unfairly burdens them because “stigmatization [from divestment] makes it difficult for an industry to engage with its customers, attract employees and more importantly access capital for investment purposes.” The Alberta Oil Magazine was more blunt, warning that “energy executives ignore [divestment] at their own peril.” Last January, when over a hundred students from Swarthmore walked out of class calling on the school to divest, a Twitter account called ‘Divestment Facts’ run by the Independent Petroleum Institute of America even tweeted #stayinclass in an attempt to dissuade students from showing moral leadership.

But as the fossil fuel industry often cites, as the tide of international victories for the divestment movement grew, Swarthmore has remained silent. Last year, a referendum on divestment passed by a landslide: 80.5 percent of voters agreed that Swarthmore College should divest from fossil fuels. The referendum shows a clear mandate from the student body for the Board to take action on divestment. Yet despite overwhelming support from faculty, students and staff, international news coverage from the New York Times and the Guardian of our campaign, and the UN climate chief calling on Swarthmore to divest from fossil fuels, the College has refused to divest.

To understand why, we need to look a little further back into our history.

Sunrise’s (formerly Mountain Justice’s) fossil fuel divestment campaign is not the first divestment campaign on Swarthmore’s campus. Swarthmore students began to organize against apartheid in South Africa as early as 1965, and in 1978 they launched a divestment campaign with a petition highlighting the injustices of apartheid, the College’s investments in companies involved in South Africa, and the College’s Quaker values.

The anti-apartheid divestment campaign spanned eleven long years: eleven years of being ignored, sidestepped, and rejected by the Board. Students circulated petitions, staged sit-ins, invited speakers, formed human chains, and slept on Parrish porch. Despite the Board rejecting divestment four times, students and faculty persisted, taking increasingly escalated action, and in 1989 the Board committed to a plan to divest from apartheid by 1990. Due to student efforts, the College finally decided that it was morally and politically unthinkable to continue to support apartheid.

In 1991, following the decision to divest from apartheid, the Board adopted new investment guidelines stating that the “Investment Committee manages the endowment to yield the best long-term financial results, rather than to pursue other social objectives.” In other words, they decided to never again take ‘social objectives’ into account.  This 1991 Ban implies that divesting from apartheid was a mistake — and that’s unacceptable.

Today, we are in the midst of a terrifying climate crisis. 2017 was a year of natural disasters. Hurricanes, wildfires, and record temperatures ravaged our communities. Those most impacted by the crisis — indigenous communities, communities of color, and low-income communities— are the first to be hit and the last to be rebuilt. Every passing year shatters previous records, and people across the country are becoming increasingly alarmed about the climate crisis.

Sunrise is going to make 2018 the year when no politician can take money from fossil fuel billionaires and claim to care about our future— and that goes for our institutions too.  We’ve just seen an incredible victory for our divestment campaign— SGO has made the decision to follow the student mandate from last year’s referendum and invested in a fossil-free fund. This decision is an incredible testament to student leadership and the Swarthmore community. It’s a huge victory, and it should be celebrated— but it isn’t enough.

This Friday, the Board of Managers is coming to campus for the first time this semester. Sunrise and SGO will be hosting a joint press conference to announce and celebrate our divestment victory in Parrish Parlors at 12:30. Join the student body in calling on the Board to divest from fossil fuels and lead with us.

Into the Archives: Apartheid Divestment, part II

in Campus Journal/Columns/Into the Archives by

Last CJ issue, I wrote about an exchange between 1985 Swarthmore grad Perry Chang and then-president David Fraser about the college’s policy on divestment from Apartheid. This week, I’d like to dig a little into what that process actually looked like.

Before the college came to the decision to divest in 1986, it adhered to the “Sullivan Principles,” a set of rules enacted by an African-American minister Leon Sullivan on the board of General Motors. GM was one of the largest employers of black South-Africans in Apartheid South Africa. The principles, which were originally created in 1977 and slightly amended in 1984, were as follows:

  1. Non-segregation of the races in all eating, comfort, and work facilities.
  2. Equal and fair employment practices for all employees.
  3. Equal pay for all employees doing equal or comparable work for the same period of time.
  4. Initiation of and development of training programs that will prepare, in substantial numbers, blacks and other nonwhites for supervisory, administrative, clerical, and technical jobs.
  5. Increasing the number of blacks and other nonwhites in management and supervisory positions.
  6. Improving the quality of life for blacks and other nonwhites outside the work environment in such areas as housing, transportation, school, recreation, and health facilities.
  7. Working to eliminate laws and customs that impede social, economic, and political justice.

Eventually, however, the principles came under fire as perpetuating an inherently oppressive system, as opposed to ending it.

On December 7, 1985, 41 students and one member of the faculty sat-in on the the Board of Manager’s meeting to protest the college’s policy of continued investment in companies doing business in South Africa. In a Board of Managers document from March 3, 1986 — the day divestment was finally agreed-upon by the Board — titled “Background on Swarthmore College, Endowment and Divestment of South African-Related Stock” outlined the process of the college’s transition from the Sullivan principles to divestment.

“They ringed the room, made brief speeches and then sat on the floor. Board Chairman Eugene Lang told them that the meeting would not be conducted in their presence. Discussions failed to resolve the impasse, and at 12:30 p.m. the meeting was adjourned,” the document read.

On December 11, 1985, students conducted a similar sit-in, this time in president David Fraser’s office.

“At noon on Wednesday, December 11 , 1985, 6 students entered President David Fraser’s office for a sit-in, although the President was out of the country for three weeks. The students demanded total divestment of stocks in companies doing business in South Africa, increased efforts to recruit black students, increased efforts to recruit black faculty, and the appointment of black faculty to important committee and professional positions. Between 3 and 40 students rotated in the President’s office for the next nine days, leaving the office on December 19 around 3 p.m.,” the document continued.

From student, alumni, and social pressure — as exhibited by Chang’s letter and many others — the college eventually decided to pursue full divestment.

As of the day the college finally divested,  $42.5 million of the college’s $195 million endowment was invested in 41 companies doing a fraction of their business in South Africa. However, this number had been decreasing for a while.

“Under the direction of the Board of Managers, the College has monitored its investments since 1978. To date, Swarthmore has sold over $3 million of South African-related stock, in four separate divestments. ln each case, the Board advised its investment counselors to sell the stock because the companies involved did not convince the College that they were conforming to the Sullivan Principles, which set forth goals for the equal treatment of workers of all races,” the document continued.  

In a memo dated that same day, Vice President and Treasurer of the board Loren Hart announced the board’s decision to fully divest.

“At the meeting on Saturday, March 1, the Board of Managers decided to move toward total divestment of stock in companies which do business in South Africa following a plan to be presented at the May meeting of the Board. Since the plan is not yet developed, we cannot now estimate precisely the impact of divestment on the endowment and, hence, on endowment income available for next year’s budget,” Hart wrote.

Hart and other board members were concerned with the impact of divestment on the community as a whole.

“This uncertainty, combined with the Board’s considerable concern the large amount of endowment income we need to balance next year’s budget, has forced us to cut next year’s budget by $300,000 (1%) from the amount previously discussed,” Hart continued. “The cost is to be borne approximately equally by the whole community: from faculty and staff, in Iower than expected compensation; from students, in lower financial aid; in lower departmental budgets; and lower major maintenance expenditures.”

Indeed, while the decision to divest had much support, it was not without setbacks. According to a letter from Ken Landis ’48, former Vice President, by April of 1988 the college had lost $1,300,000 in its efforts to divest.

“If extrapolated, this would mean total divestment would cause the College to lose each year the price of building a new Performing Arts Center or twice the cost of running our financial aid program,” Landis wrote to 1982 alum Dana Lyons.

The college crafted a plan to manage the losses over time, but it also emphasized that the goal was not to extend the losses for generations.

“The Board has consístently expressed its concern that future generations at swarthmore not bear the costs from divesting. We now deduct 300,000 from the operating budget each year — to cover losses incurred by this process. Thus, it is the current students, parents, faculty, and staff who are shouldering the financial responsibility for the change,” Landis wrote in another letter in 1989 to two alums.

It’s true, the students of the time did shoulder the financial responsibility for the charge. But they did also enjoy the moral responsibility of pressuring their own institution to help undermine an explicitly racist regime. By 1991, a year after the college fully divested, Apartheid was over — at least in a codified sense.

Desmond Tutu said of Apartheid,

In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime.”

That’s a legacy of which Swat should be proud of being a part. Sacrifices were made, from an institutional point of view; faculty and staff took pay cuts, financial aid took a hit, projects were not enacted. But the sacrifices did work, and the success of Apartheid divestment serves as a reminder that collective action and institutional accountability is not only possible, but powerful.

Into the Archives: a correspondence on divestment

in Into the Archives by

On June 17, 1985, recent alum Perry Chang wrote a handwritten note to then-president of the College David Fraser. The note read:

“Dear President Fraser: I would be interested to receive a response to the letter I handed to you at Commencement. I have enclosed a copy of that letter, which I helped draft. Hope you are having a pleasant summer. Sincerely, Perry Chang.”

The letter enclosed, written by Chang and a few other students who had graduated in 1985, was a call for divestment from companies doing business in South Africa under Apartheid.

“Many of us wear armbands today to remind both College officials and our friends, family, teachers, and fellow students about the deteriorating situation in South Africa and what role the College might play in improving the situation … during the past four years at Swarthmore we have become more and more familiar — through films, course work, symposiums, and even late-night discussions — with the apartheid system of South Africa,” Chang and others wrote.

They then urged President Fraser to take two specific actions. First, to contact the College’s Ad Hoc Committee on Ethics and Investments, created a the year prior, and urge them to support a new provision. This provision reconsidered the College’s policy since 1978, which established that the College would maintain investments in South Africa as long as they followed the “Sullivan Principles,” which the Swarthmore Anti-Apartheid committee considered to be a cover for companies wanting to stay in South Africa. The second thing the students urged was for Fraser to publicly support the proposed Anti-Apartheid Act of 1985 being considered by Congress.

“We believe the time is ripe for action on the apartheid issue,” the last paragraph of the letter reads. “In South Africa, things grow worse every day. Over here, the “Free South Africa” gains steam, in college campuses and in the halls of Congress. Both the situation in South Africa and the movement here cry out for us to act now. As students here for the past four years, we have waited patiently as the College has put this issue through the slow mechanism of its formal committees. We are running out of patience.”

Chang and others ended with a concrete consequence for the college if it did not divest.

And we suspect that, should the Ethics and Investments Committee effort go nowhere over the summer, next year many of us will likely support the establishment of an “alternative endowment” — a pool of alumni contributions which will not be released to the College until it divests — and younger students who remain at Swarthmore will likely lose faith in the College’s established mechanism for change and opt for a different mechanism. The time for you and the College to act is now.”  

On June 28, 1985, President Fraser sent a letter back to Chang. In his letter, he outlined his dismay for the situation.

“Dear Perry: I welcome the chance to make a personal reply to the letter that you and your classmates gave to Gene Lang and me during the Commencement ceremonies. In the letter you raise important issues of what the College’s and our government’s responses should be to the dreadful system of legislated racism that was built up in South Africa forty or fifty years ago, and continues largely in place despite some recent marginal improvements … The College wrestles with a variely of issues including whether it should be a locus of debate or a debator, whether to use its investments as a polítical or moral statement would compromise its fiduciary responsibilities, and how the College might use its investments most efficiently in effecting change in South Africa.”

Fraser also outlined recent discussions in Washington on Apartheid.

“I spent Wednesday in Washington with a group of college and university presidents debating these issues and cross examining Senator Paul Sarbanes and Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker (who have, as I suspect you know, markedly differing views). Crocker argues that the oppression of blacks ín South Africa is lessening, and that our leverage is greater if we are ‘constructively engaged,’ and that forces are already in place that will lead to the dismantling of apartheid in the relatively near future. I find myself unconvinced that our engagement has cause much improvement in the situation of blacks in South Africa, because I do not see that the situation has improved much. I have a harder time judging the validity of his assertion that things will now improve fairly rapidly — I worry that the Botha government is changing things about as quickly as the Afrikaners will permit and that in the present climate only revolution will bring rapid change.”

Despite this, Fraser explained that he was not personally yet convinced that the College would do better to follow total divestment, and that he looked to the committee of guidance. He did accept the second demand, and publicly expressed support for the passage of the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1985, however warning that this did not commit the college itself to a particular stand.

In 1986, the Anti-Apartheid Act passed in congress and the College board of managers reached a decision to proceed toward full divestment. Full divestment was reached in 1990. Apartheid legislation in South Africa was outlawed in 1991.

The process, though, was a long and halting one; Chang and President Fraser’s exchange is a mere slice. Next issue, I’ll outline the actual process of the College’s progress toward apartheid divestment.

In many ways, this process can be seen as analogous to the current movement for divestment from fossil fuels: in April of 1985, before the Committee came to a decision, the College held a referendum in which 79% of the students who voted called for total divestment to replace the Sullivan principles. Mountain Justice held a similar referendum last year. Then and now, divestment is no easy process — hoops must be jumped through; drawbacks must be considered. Even so, morality in investment has been a question the College has been struggling with for decades and will, I predict, for years to come.


*Chang and Fraser’s letters are courtesy of the Friend’s Historical Library

Divestment dialogue leads to sit-in

in Around Campus/News by

On Friday, Swarthmore’s Student Government Organization hosted a forum on divestment in the Friends Meeting House that included President Valerie Smith, Mountain Justice Coordinator, Aru Shiney-Ajay ’20, Professor and Chair of the History Department Timothy Burke, Associate Professor and Acting Chair of the Sociology/Anthropology Department Lee Smithey, Vice President of Finance and Administration Greg Brown, Director of Sustainability Aurora Winslade, Chair of the Environmental Impact Committee Tiffany Yu, ’18, and President of the Swarthmore Conservative Society Gilbert Guerra ’19. The panelists sat in a semi-circle and the discussion was moderated by Duke Fisher, a professional mediator, who asked questions that were emailed by students to SGO.

Mountain Justice expressed frustration after the event, releasing a video and an official statement on their Facebook page in the days following the event. The group felt that their questions were not properly answered, and have since responded with a sit-in that is taking place in President Smith’s office and the surrounding hallway. Aru Shiney-Ajay expressed that she feels she did not hear an adequate answer about the 1991 ban, whether or not divesment and on-campus sustainability are an either- choice, and a response about financial concerns of partial divestment versus full divestment.

“I hope to hear the questions that we’re asking answered. We outlined three questions that we posed at the forum that the administration sidestepped, I would hope to hear some type of response, I don’t know if that’s going to happen. ” she said.

President Smith had a different opinion about the event, and felt that it facilitated dialogue about the issue of divestment. She also noted that there is a lot more work to be done outside of divestment in order to protect the climate.

“I don’t believe that any of the speakers dodged questions or refused dialogue.​ If we don’t agree with one another, it doesn’t mean there’s been no dialogue. Dialogue in my definition means listening to another point of view, sticking scrupulously to the facts, and being open to discussing them… We have so much work to do to combat climate change, especially in the current political environment. For example, we can work to retain the effectiveness of the EPA, to uphold environmental regulations, and to keep true sustainability advocates in advocacy roles. There is a march in Washington this coming weekend for the People’s Climate Movement, ​and​ MJ, other student groups, and the Office of Sustainability are sponsoring buses from campus​. There are any number of ways for us to come together in common purpose,” said Smith.

During the forum, President Smith expressed that the college’s central mission was to educate students and that the college may not be as able to fund as fully if MJ’s potential changes to the endowment were made.

“The decision not to divest emerged from about four years from about four years of extensive conversation, debate, reading, discussion, on the part of the managers with both members of the campus community as well as external advocates and activists […] at the end of that four year period of consultation the board decided that they would not divest, and I think they made this decision for a variety of reasons that are consistent with our core mission, one of which is that to do so would jeopardize our endowment returns that would then have the potential to negatively impact our ability to support students and to support the core educational mission. They were unwilling to do that, to threaten the endowment returns and to threaten the core mission to support a mission that at the end of the day would not have a demonstrable effect on corporations or on our energy consumption,” she said that the forum

Vice President of Finance and Administration Greg Brown was skeptical of the effectiveness of divestment and focused on the consumption side of the issue. He also said that the Board of Managers considers climate change in its decision making.

“Just looking at the producers doesn’t deal with the problem […] We survey [managers] asking them a very simple question for which we want to see a real answer: how does climate […] affect your decision making in how you make investments. .. if you’re not thinking about climate change it’s probable that we may not think about keeping you as a manager,” he said during the forum.

A divide exists between Mountain Justice and the administration, highlighted by their sit-in in the President’s office, on the topic of divestment. Whether or not the Board of Managers will divest is yet to be seen, but Mountain Justice has put an increasing amount of pressure on the administration in the last week. The sit-in began on Monday and is still ongoing.

The SGO Forum and the Failure to Listen

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

The SGO forum on divestment last Friday appears to have produced more tension than dialogue. This is largely due to Mountain Justice’s curious interpretation of the event after the fact. By their account, expressed in the op-ed “Friday’s Forum: An Exercise in Futility” written by Mountain Justice member Aru Shiney-Ajay ‘20 , the organizers only allowed “one student representative when there were three from the administration… the administration repeatedly danced around questions, refusing to give concrete answers.”

The implication that the organizers of the event were trying to stifle student dissent by only allowing one student representative from Mountain Justice is simply unfounded. The forum was about divestment, not Mountain Justice, and the organizers succeeded in finding a diverse array of backgrounds and positions. There were three students: one for divestment, one against it, and one that was neutral. There were two professors: one for divestment and one who was at least skeptical of it. And there were three administrators: the President of the College, the Vice-President of Finance, and the Sustainability Director. It is hard to see how having another Mountain Justice member would have improved this lineup in any way. Regardless, the pro-divestment contingent of Shiney-Ajay and Professor Lee Smithey had by far the most speaking time, and were in no way impeded by the moderator, who gave them plenty of permission to speak on nearly every question, which they did.

Mountain Justice’s second point of contention, that the administration agreed to the forum as a show and had no intention of listening to students, is frankly hypocritical. It is highly doubtful that any member of Mountain Justice, who showed up prepared with cameras, pages of notes, and trendy finger snaps, came to the forum with the intention of listening to any doubts of divestment at all. This is a shame, because despite the awkward fishbowl format there was still a lot of valuable information that came up in the panelist’s statements and interactions. For example, Shiney-Ajay actually convinced me that the 1991 decision to forbid social causes from influencing the management of the endowment is fundamentally at odds with the decision to divest from South Africa, and by extension implies that only one of those decisions was correct in the eyes of the Board. For their part, if Mountain Justice’s delegation had done less talking and more listening, they might have had enough time to hear the answers they are now indignantly demanding. Or perhaps they would have heard Professor Timothy Burke’s warning that as a young activist he had overrated the importance of his own activism work in the context of a larger movement. It is hard, of course, to hear these criticisms over the sound of your friends snapping their fingers as you deliver a pre-written speech that takes up most of the time allotted for discussion and leaves you with no time to hear actual answers.

The real regret I have from the fallout of this forum is the way Mountain Justice has treated President Valerie Smith. Apart from her initial statement and other direct questions, President Smith sat in silence and spent the most time actually listening than any other participant in the forum. For this effort her office was soon the subject of a sit-in by the people at the forum who had listened the least. This is a serious impediment to further dialogue between the administration and students, and pro-divestment students should recognize that dialogue is as much a chance to listen as it is to speak.


in Breaking News/News by

In a stunning turn of events, the Board of Managers of Swarthmore College made the decision last weekend to completely divest from the concerns of the college community and invest the college’s entire multi-billion dollar endowment in the rubber duck industry. The decision comes after weeks of careful deliberation with well-meaning student activists and concerned alumni. Thankfully, all of the considerations were carefully thrown out the window before the decision was made, ensuring that a complete lack of transparency in the Board of Managers’ decision-making would be preserved.

Several committees with no decision-making power whatsoever were formed in anticipation of the decision in order to feign a sense of student engagement with the process. The Ducks Matter Committee, the Envisioning Exercise, and the Dean’s Quacking Committee were all formed with an equal distribution of SGO-appointed students, faculty, and staff members and spent several weeks discussing the abstract concepts behind investing in rubber ducks. While students voiced vehement opposition to the rubber duck industry, college staff championed each of the committees as a productive space for meaningful and productive conversation to take place.

“I was really impressed with the many ways college staff made me feel like my voice was heard while simultaneously offering no commitment to act on my concerns whatsoever,” said Ana S. Mallard ’17. Mallard joined the Ducks Matter Committee so that she could find another excuse not to complete her thesis this semester.

The implications of the decision to invest in rubber ducks will be swift and current students will feel its impact. Investment strategist Martha Duckworth believes that the decision to invest in rubber ducks does not reflect a change in the college’s policies or values; rather, Duckworth stressed that the Board of Managers was simply choosing to be fiscally responsible and not tie up discussions of the endowment in “social issues,” otherwise known as the policies and practices that affect real individuals on a daily basis. Beginning with the class of 2017, all graduating seniors will receive a rubber duck on graduation day, engraved with the tiny phrase, “We know that none of you wanted this to happen, but you’re a part of the real world, now!” Furthermore, the college’s official mascot will become Ducky the Duck, effective immediately.

1 2 3 11
Go to Top