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MJ to fully automate divestment protest process

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In response to the recent citations of four Mountain Justice student protesters, MJ has decided to dramatically escalate their divestment campaign. In order to do so, MJ has enlisted the help of a large team of computer science and engineering students to fully automate the divestment campaign. With the help of a web crawler, Facebook chat bot, and neural network, MJ will be emailing a new divestment petition to every current Swarthmore student, every newly admitted member of the class of 2021, every living Swat alumnus, and unfortunately more than a few deceased alumni. This petition will include a new feature for alumni where they can list dollar amounts of donations that they’re not giving to the school because of the college’s refusal to divest. Although the petition is expected to yield signatures far exceeding the size of the present student body, the petition will likely not return a number of signatures rivalling the size of the endowment and will therefore be entirely ignored by the administration.

“Our new divestment campaign is going to be bigger and better than any divestment campaign so far. Obviously, we’re bringing back the petition, that one’s always a fan favorite. We’re also really going to double down on the sit-ins, because that seems really hot at the moment, but to really make a statement, we’ve decided on a quadruple-headed approach this time and are introducing two entirely new campaign,” said Jessica Terra ‘19.  

One new campaign focuses on sending the Board of Managers hourly updates of the number of individuals who’ve signed the petition and the amount of money not donated to the school. To avoid the MJ email address simply being blacklisted, MJ is asking students to install a new app they’ve created on their cell phones which will rotate between users of the app, occasionally utilizing the user’s phone to email, text, call, fax, and LinkedIn DM members of the Board of Managers. The app will be available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, and Nokia flip phone and the the hourly update duties will be distributed among the set of users using a neural network.

The sit-in protest will also be fully automated. Engineering students have constructed a group of humanoid robots which will sit in the offices of Vice President of Finances and Administration Gregory Brown, Chief Investment Officer Mark Amstutz, Associate Dean of Students Nathan Miller, and President Valerie Smith for an indefinite period of time. In order to comply with the Student Code of Conduct, these robots will be fully functional personal assistants, assisting (and not interfering with) the day to day work of the administrators. In order to be effective as a protest, however, the robots will continuously emit subliminal pro-divestment messages, which largely consist of polar bear trivia. The technology, of course, utilizes neural networks to govern the robot’s administrative assistant capabilities.

When it was pointed out to MJ that these robots probably are already against the Student Code of Conduct and, if not, definitely will be by next year when the college updates the Code of Conduct to bar even more forms of student protest, MJ members responded by saying that the robots probably don’t count as students and can’t be cited and weigh approximately 800 pounds each so it’s not like PubSafe could really move them even if they wanted to.

The fourth head of MJ’s new quadruple headed approach is an innovative new protest technique where MJ is combining their Responsible Endowments Fund with a million layer neural network to actively target the college’s fossil fuel investments and decrease their value through a series of minor market exchanges indecipherable to the human mind.

“To be honest, I’m not even sure what this one does. It sort of makes sense, but this isn’t something that should actually work, is it?” said MJ member someone someone.

“This should definitely not work,” said Associate Professor of Computer Science, someone someone.

Not to Humiliate but to Win Over

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Reflections on the Right to Peacefully Assemble to Protest Fossil Fuels Endowment Investment at Swarthmore College”

The 1st amendment of the U.S. Constitution states the right of free people to peacefully assemble, and to petition their governing body for a redress of grievances.  In this spirit, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in 1958 that the aim of the nonviolent resistance movement is not to “seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding.”  Beginning five years ago, the on-campus campaign to persuade Swarthmore to divest its fossil fuels holdings has operated in the spirit of King’s constitutionally protected movement for social change.

But this peaceful effort has now provoked a disappointing response on the part of the College.

The core mission of Swarthmore College is to teach students how to pursue learning with a commitment to social change.  Faculty agree with this goal, and on March 24 voted 53-9, with 4 abstentions, to urge the College to divest from Big Oil, Gas, and Coal.  Additionally, on February 24, students sat in the administration’s Investment Office and surrounding public spaces to protest the college’s endowment policy.  This action is the same action that was taken in the Spring of 2015, but the earlier protest lasted almost five weeks instead of one day.  In the recent one-day sit-in, the same spaces were occupied as the one in 2015, including the so-called private work area of the Investment Officer.  As a faculty ally, I was present at the beginning of the 2015 sit-in — along with student protesters who temporarily, and peacefully, occupied the Investment Office at that time.  No action was taken against anyone involved in the 2015 sit-in.

Fast forward to today.  Now, in response to the recent one-day protest, the college is charging student protesters with entering and failing to leave a private work area, and interrupting the work of staff members.  This is a debatable charge for two reasons.  Fundamentally, no college-owned work space is strictly private.  Moreover, why was the current standard not invoked two years ago when faculty and students, in protest, entered the same office and surrounding space and interrupted the work of staff members?

On March 26, President Valerie Smith wrote an open letter charging the sit-in students with violating the student code of conduct.  This letter followed a March 17 confidential letter by Dean Nathan Miller announcing an administrative review of the protesting students.  But the mission of the college says “Swarthmore seeks to help its students realize their full intellectual and personal potential combined with a deep sense of ethical and social concern.”  To me, this is the core issue at stake in this on-going disputation.  I believe the nonviolent protesters were simply living out this mission statement and realizing its full aim by peacefully taking over an administrative office guided by their commitment to social and planetary well-being.

Contrary to President Smith and Dean Miller, the students’ action, fundamentally, was not a conduct code violation, but a courageous act of conscience.

Concerning the specifics of Dean Miller’s private letter and subsequent secret hearings, the college’s review of the students in question violates due process.  The hearings assumed certain facts in question, gave the students only two business days to prepare, made no provision for students to secure outside counsel to assist them in their defense, prohibited the students from asking for a continuance, and announced a set of dire consequences if they failed to accept its terms.  According to Dean Miller’s letter, the students were adjudicated under the Minor Misconduct Process, but the intended punishments were potentially severe, ranging from notations in students’ records to probation, monetary damages, and “additional educational sanctions,” whatever that means.  In the end, it appears the college let the students off with a warning.  But what will be their fate, or that of future protesters, if they attempt a similar act of peaceful dissent in the future?

Guided by conscience and good will, Swarthmore students today, as they did two years ago, are putting their education and their futures on the line by thoughtfully challenging the college administration to do the right thing and stop giving the toxic fossil fuels extraction industry its seal of approval.  Nonviolent direct action is not a new tactic at Swarthmore.  Previous peaceful occupations of administrative offices – for example, African-American students take-over of the Admissions Office in 1969, and Anti-Apartheid students take-over of the Admissions Office in 1985 – portended the fossil fuels sit-ins of 2015 and last month.

As King said, we should never demean or insult one another as we struggle in the communities we serve to realize common ideals.  Fair-minded people of good will, then, can sometimes agree about long-range strategic goals, but disagree about immediate tactics to realize these goals.  The College’s Sustainability Office, Environmental Studies Program, Climate Action Plan, carbon charge, green advisors, and much more, are central to its concerted efforts to facilitate learning and living responsibly in troubled times.  But Swarthmore is also squandering its good name by lending its moral capital to a dying industry hell-bent on destroying the self-regulating climate system that sustains Earth’s biosphere.  Instead of charging students with conduct violations who are living out the College’s mission through peaceful action, Swarthmore should crown each of these students as climate heroes whose fearless actions are an inspiration for all of us.

Candy-coated family-friendly version of activism achieves nothing

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Swarthmore brands itself as an institution where student-staff-administration collaboration is crucial not only to student culture but to college function. Another critical value of the campus community is student activism, which has been present at the college since its radical founding. This spring semester, the college is neither living up to its history as an actor for social justice nor holding true to the values it advertises.

An essential part of the Swarthmore experience is learning to question the world around oneself. Through academics, campus resources and organizations, and simply being with other Swatties, students are taught to question, point out flaws, offer improvements, and assert their voices in an earnest way. Part of what students examine is the very institution from which they learn this critical thinking. This action can be seen presently in Mountain Justice’s divestment campaign and multiple demonstrations and protests on the issue. The college should largely support these initiatives, but has threatened students with citations and probations for interfering with college operations.

To first offset some concern, the Phoenix does not expect the college always to orchestrate actions perfectly in time with current events — the college does not control each aspect of this issue. Questions of the student handbook must be addressed to follow due diligence; however, the college’s handling of these situations must be examined independently, so students can engage earnestly with their institution.

Beyond disagreeing with divestment, the college’s warnings of citation and probation are seemingly meant to deter students from exercising their rights to assembly and peaceful protest. As an institution that encourages political activism from its founding to the sanctuary campus initiative and financing of Women’s March events, it is disappointing and demoralizing that the college only supports activism as long as the demonstrations are not aimed at it.

We acknowledge that it is true that the students sitting in the Chief Investment Officer’s were in violation of item six of the disorderly conduct definition of the Student Code of Conduct. However, we not only protest the enforcement of this item, but it’s very existence. Item six includes within disorderly conduct “other conduct that disrupts the normal operations of the college.” This broadens the definition of disorderly conduct to include anything that inconveniences faculty or staff. It’s also important to note that this item is a new change to the 2016-2017 Student Code of Conduct; any claim that the students opted in to this rule is tenuous as the majority of current students had already established themselves at the college before this rule was added. Although the previous edition of the Student Code of Conduct did state that conduct which impinged on the “orderly and essential operations of the College” was disorderly and that the previous defining list of five items was not limiting, the language has since been clearly intentionally broadening, which is troubling.

Furthermore, if the college intends to stand by this change to the Code of Conduct and its broad enforcement of the new definition it cannot position itself as a supporter of campus activism. The new wording bans any activism inconvenient to the college and, put very simply, supporting only activism which is convenient for you is not supporting activism. The point of demonstrations is to disrupt day to day activities to draw attention to a pressing issue. If there’s no disruption, all that’s left is a candy-coated family-friendly version of activism which achieves nothing and would be shameful to this college’s founders.

Future students will enter the liberal arts tradition. When speaking to prospective Swatties, the college rattles off stories of students using the campus to incubate ideas that they can explore boldly on and off campus. Tour guides mention  sit-ins and trips to Philadelphia and Washington they have attended to illustrate the campus’ activist tendencies. Item six in the Student Code of Conduct hampers inquiry and challenge where students are meant to hone those skills for the future.

The college’s actions this March, in its threats of probation and citation against student protesters, have demonstrated the college does not support the activities it promotes if those actions are directed at it. As it has decided that social justice is part of its history, character, and branding, the administration must find some to respect student activism.

Who Has the Power? My Journey into Swat Bureaucracy

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Ever since the Board of Managers chose not to divest from fossil fuels, I’ve started envisioning the people “at the top” of the Swarthmore administration, who chose to ignore the strong student support of divestment. In my more dramatic moments, I imagined rows of white men in suits, all puppets of the fossil fuel industry, deliberately frustrating wide-eyed idealist students at every turn through heinous bureaucratic tricks. Basically, a combination of the Koch brothers and very unhelpful DMV employees.

That vision was very unfair of me; only half of the Board of Managers is composed of white men (take into account white women, though, and the Board is looking less diverse). Many are involved in philanthropy and nonprofit work.

But if the board isn’t all that bad, why did they avoid directly engaging with students? When student protesters moved to Kohlberg, where the Board of Managers planned to meet in the Scheueur Room, Dean Liz Braun heroically escorted the Board members into the room through the kitchen door, supposedly to avoid disturbing the protest. Call me a cynic, but I doubt they cared about disrupting the protest that much. Rather, I have a feeling they wanted to avoid the protesters (who were not, by any definition, a bloodthirsty bunch).

Searching through the managers’ biographies did not suggest any scandalous conflicts of interest that would explain the Board’s unwillingness to converse. A number of managers have worked for firms that the average noble, socially conscious Swattie would probably condemn — such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan —- and the members of the Investment Committee all work in finance, a number of them in private equity firms, but that is to be expected. I did find a potentially troubling connection through a non-Swarthmore publication; Chris Niemczewski ‘74, the Investment Committee’s chair, “is responsible for investing the endowment and finding external consultants and managers to invest and manage it;” he is also the president of the investment advisory firm Marshfield Associates, which Swarthmore paid almost $200,000 in investment management fees. One of Marshfield Associates’ major investments is in Deere and Devon Energy, a gas and petroleum producer. The Phoenix has previously noticed and discussed this possible conflict of interest. (http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2014/10/23/investment-committee-conflict-of-interest/).

It is worth noting that, before I started this research, I had no idea how powerful the Board of Managers truly is. I naively assumed that, since President Smith and the various deans were the ones from whom we got emails from and with whom we communicated, they were the people in charge. But it’s the Board that hires — and fires — the college’s presidents, that approves the Swarthmore budget, and that approves changes in salaries (http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2015/09/03/top-salaries-at-college-similar-to-those-at-peer-institutions/). Even in the Swat Bubble, money has power. President Smith inspires respect, even affection, in students. I was at the Mountain Justice sit-in, and appreciated that she took the effort to come and check on the students. I was less appreciative of the fact that she somewhat woodenly repeated the same line about the Board having made its decision. We’d like to think that Val calls the shots; but, ultimately, she seems to have little formal power with the managers.

Again, it’s unfair to generalize. The Board does have some diverse backgrounds, and I imagine there was some debate about divestment. Board Member David Singleton even came by the sit-in to engage with students, and admitted that divestment had proved effective in other colleges. Yet the managers as a whole proved unwilling to extend that debate to include students.

“We talk a lot about dialogue and critical thinking, and the Board wasn’t willing to engage with questions that are difficult,” points out Stephen O’Hanlon ‘17, a Mountain Justice coordinator. “[It’s] unacceptable that they aren’t engaging with something that was accepted by such a wide margin.”

In all the time I spent looking through the webpages for various Board committees, I did not feel as if the Board or the President’s Office was trying to hide shameful secrets or throw anyone off the track. From what I understand, Swarthmore is managed like an ordinary, not particularly corrupt private company. But maybe that’s the problem. We’re not just any private company, with shareholders and investors. Swarthmore’s very purpose is to “make its students more valuable human beings and more useful members of society…with a deep sense of ethical and social concern.” (Incidentally, I wasn’t aware one could become a more valuable human being).

In the world of private companies, presumably Swat students would be the equivalent of shareholders. But we won’t just be content with getting an end of they year report (or multiple emails from various offices, or a Self-Study Action Report that mentions the need for administrative transparency). We won’t just read the very bland short bios of the managers, and try to navigate the Board’s 11 committees through unhelpful webpages. Some Committees’ roles are not even explained — such as the Compensation Committee. Google has revealed that Compensation Committees decide salaries. Nothing specifies whose salaries, but I assume that this is the Committee of whom staff members would like to stay on the good side.

The Board proudly proclaims its commitment to Quaker values. Chief among these should be a willingness to fully include students in the decision-making process – to act by consensus, rather than avoid us. O’Hanlon worries that “there’s no formal way for students or faculty to influence the Board of Managers.”

The ultimately fruitless referendum seems to support O’Hanlon’s concerns. But Swat students have brains, passion, and a real commitment to changing things. In a few decades, some of us will be the next Board of Managers. Are we willing to speak out now, ask the Board for more transparency, more engagement with students, if not more inclusion in their decisions? Or will we also be sneaking in through the kitchen door 30 years from now?

 

(This article by a non-Swattie discusses the College’s endowment and investments, in addition to the one conflict of interest I may have found. It is definitely worth reading, at least to gain one outside perspective. http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/20150720_Richly_Endowed.html)

 

Mountain Justice stages sit-in and protest after Board’s divestment decision

in Around Campus/News by

Last Friday morning, members of Mountain Justice staged a sit-in protest in the office of Chief Investment Officer Mark Amstutz, following the Board of Manager’s decision to continue investment in fossil fuel industries despite a student referendum that urged the Board to divest. Later in the day, the Parrish Hall sit-in transitioned to a rally in Kohlberg Hall to disrupt the Board meeting taking place.

“Our purpose was to ask Mark Amstutz, Greg Brown, Val Smith, and the Board: do you truly stand behind this policy? While we understand that some restraint around using the endowment for social purposes is important, these same standards would have prevented us from divesting from the South African apartheid, a decision that we hope the entire Swarthmore community is glad the Board made,” said members of Mountain Justice in a statement.

According to members of MJ, 80 students plus a few faculty attended the sit-in, and characterized the sit-in as going “smoothly.” However, according to a Daily Gazette article, a “tense confrontation” ensued between Director of Public Safety Mike Hill and another MJ member. MJ members further explained why they chose the sit-in as a method of protest.

“We chose the sit-in because it was a concrete way for us to increase the pressure on the Board to take seriously the referendum and stop rejecting it simply because it would take social considerations into account when making investment decisions,” said the MJ members.

By Friday afternoon, the protest transitioned to a rally at Kohlberg Hall, where a Board of Managers meeting was taking place. During the livestreamed rally on Facebook, protestors sang, chanted, and gave speeches. With students lying on the ground with arms spread wide, the rally concluded with a “die-in,” where students pretended to be dead for approximately 15 minutes. This was meant to be representative of victims of injustice, in this case, climate change. During the die-in, Dean of Students Liz Braun announced that she would be escorting the board members and administration through the Kohlberg kitchen door to not interrupt the protest being held. Members of MJ said that the board’s refusal to engage directly with students was indefensible, in response.

Our goal is always to respect the rights of community members to engage in protest as long as it does not disrupt the business of the College. President Smith and Board Member David Singleton ’68 separately spoke with the students at the sit-in and both had pleasant exchanges,” said Braun in a statement after Friday’s events. She later reiterated the Board’s response to the referendum that had been emailed to the campus a day earlier.

Members of MJ concluded by reiterating their stance on divestment and citing other institutions that had divested from fossil fuels.

“Mountain Justice plans to continue to stand up for the values we want our College to uphold — commitment to leadership for the common good, social responsibility, and dedication to science. The Board’s refusal to engage with the referendum simply because it uses the endowment for social purposes goes against what we stand for as an institution,” they said. “Large universities like Yale, Stanford take social concerns into account when they invest and have all partially divested. Their refusal to consider the student referendum is unconscionable. It is a disrespect to the millions threatened by Trump’s disastrous climate policies and to the students who have overwhelmingly demanded the Board take a stand for our future.”

We forced divestment from apartheid, we will do it again

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Yesterday, SGO announced the results of the student referendum on fossil fuel divestment. The referendum passed by a landslide: 80.5 percent of voters agreed that Swarthmore College should divest from fossil fuels with 55 percent voter turnout. The results of the referendum demonstrate a clear mandate from the student body for the Board to take action on divestment.

Despite this mandate, President Valerie Smith and Board Chair, Thomas E. Spock ’78, released a statement Wednesday afternoon in which they upheld the Board’s 2015 decision not to divest while ignoring the referendum’s popular support on campus. The Board’s decision to immediately cast aside this referendum and refuse to seriously engage with the issue of divestment in unacceptable, particularly as the fossil fuel industry partners with the Trump administration to push forward climate policies that will threaten millions of lives.

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.

As President Smith and Board Chair Spock cited in their email, 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.” While we understand that some restraint around using the endowment for social purposes is important, the Board’s blanket rejection of any social concerns with our investments is morally unconscionable. Our investments do not exist in a vacuum. Investing in these companies directly undermines the social and political work the college advocates and pursues both on campus and beyond. Unless the Board thinks that divestment from apartheid was a mistake, their current objection to any divestment proposals is morally and politically inconsistent.

As our “Fossil Fuel Divestment Finances Fact Sheet” points out, our current proposal not only sidesteps the past financial concerns of the Board but could also ultimately serve as a financial boon to the College. Additionally, we find it deeply disturbing that the reasons President Smith and Board Chair Spock cited for ignoring the student referendum — these guidelines as well as previous rejection of fossil fuel divestment — would have prevented the College’s divestment from apartheid had students not persisted. Of course, the system of apartheid in South Africa and the fossil fuel industry are by no means the same. However, both the apartheid regime and the fossil fuel industry are rogue social actors that pose mortal threats to millions of people.

Today, we stand at a turning point in history on the brink of climate disaster. The devastating effects of climate change cannot be understated: sea levels and temperatures are rising; droughts, floods, and extreme weather patterns are increasing in intensity and frequency; and those most impacted by the crisis — indigenous communities, communities of color, and low-income communities —are met with brutal force and militarized police when they peacefully resist the pipelines, incinerators, and refineries routed through their land and lives.

Despite this increasingly urgent reality, we are rapidly going in the wrong direction. From appointing as Secretary of State the former CEO of Exxon, a company that funded climate denialism and hid the truth from the public for decades, to appointing Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, a man who sued the agency he is now supposed to run over a dozen times during the Obama administration, the Trump administration has made it clear that it cares more about profits than people’s lives and the environment.

Now more than ever, we need institutions like Swarthmore College to be a leader and take action on this urgent issue. Neutrality is no longer an option; continuing to invest in companies that place profit over people, trample indigenous sovereignty, fund climate denialism, and poison our air, water, and land is not a neutral stance.

Nor can action be limited to efforts on our campus. We must stigmatize the fossil fuel industry and revoke their social license to operate. Teaching students about sustainability and adding a carbon charge are important examples of climate action. However, continuing to invest in the very companies that fund climate denialism and lobby Congress to block meaningful climate action ultimately undermines these efforts. By stigmatizing the fossil fuel industry, divestment will help create the political will for these other important initiatives.

Believing that it is urgent for Swarthmore to send a powerful moral message in this political moment, we have offered a compromise: our proposal for partial divestment avoids the main concerns, such as a potential loss in financial gains, that the Board has cited in the past. And yet, the Board refuses to listen to the student body, telling us that the situation has not changed in the past two years.

But the situation has changed. Not only does the proposal in the referendum avoid the Board’s previous financial concerns, but a mandate from students and a political situation that demands institutional leadership creates a new imperative for divestment.

The Board has refused to listen to the student body before on matters of divestment. Had students not persisted, the College may never have divested from apartheid in South Africa. Now, like then, we must demand leadership from our institution, or we risk looking back, years down the line, and realizing that we stood on the wrong side of history. We cannot stand idly by and let that happen.

In referendum, vote for divestment, vote for justice

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From foreign conflict to inadequate healthcare to domestic militarized, racist policing, the government controlled by Donald Trump and the Republican Party has exacerbated existing problems, leaving widespread suffering and even death in its wake. But perhaps the issue around which the most devastating effects are being produced is climate change. As a result of reckless federal policies, there is an increasingly high potential that more people will not only feel climate change’s effects now, but will continue to starve, be displaced, and die for centuries to come.

Even under President Obama, the transition away from fossil fuels, which is necessary to prevent devastating temperature increases and increasingly frequent and extreme natural disasters, was weak. But under Trump, concern for the future of the planet has been replaced by concern for the profit of fossil fuel corporations. If the public could not rely on Obama to effectively prevent climate change, it certainly cannot rely on Trump.

Now is the time to take matters into our own hands. We must make climate change an issue that the government cannot ignore, make fossil fuel companies a problem that the public cannot ignore, and destabilize the industry that makes profits while it poisons oppressed communities and causes global damage that will last for generations to come. On campus, that means that we must divest from fossil fuels.

Divestment is one of the most powerful tactics we as college students possess to undermine the industries that carelessly cause climate change. Executives will not halt extraction of the product upon which their companies are based. Further, when the government does not act to restrict these corporations and instead seeks to deregulate them, it falls to the public to delegitimize the fossil fuel industry and make climate change a defining moral issue. To do this, hundreds of institutions have taken a stand through divestment, sending a clear and powerful message to businesses, governments, and other institutions that the fossil fuel companies are part of a rogue industry that has no place in a just future or within our institutions. The fossil fuel industry has recognized that this message poses a threat to them and has actively tried to stifle the divestment movement through public relations campaigns and legal action. As the campus that began the fossil fuel divestment movement, we at Swarthmore have the power to send a bold message on where we stand as an institution in this time of a climate change denialist government. This message will help to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry and push it further towards unacceptability in the mainstream.

   However, despite our considerable position of power and influence and the size of our $1.9 billion endowment, Swarthmore’s Board of Managers has consistently refused to divest. Now, when the Republican-controlled government is threatening our futures and millions of lives, it is our duty as students to unequivocally tell them that they must divest and reject their deadly neutrality. To give students a chance to send this message, Mountain Justice has organized the first referendum in the campaign’s history through the Student Government Organization. Students can vote online at http://bit.ly/DivestSwat on Monday, Feb. 20, and Tuesday, Feb. 21 to call on the board to partially divest.

While full divestment would be the most powerful action in the struggle for climate justice, the partial divestment proposal this referendum advocates for gives the board no excuse to avoid listening to our demands. It has three parts. The first is divestment from separately managed funds, which are essentially customizable funds, and makes divestment as simple as asking our managers to stop investing in the Carbon Underground list of the 200 largest coal, oil, and gas companies. As Christopher Niemczewski, chair of the board’s investment committee, said in the college’s Spring 2015 Bulletin, the college has separately managed funds so that “it is easy for a client to come to the investment manager with specific needs or requests, such as for a fossil-free portfolio.” The second part is asking commingled fund managers, under whom our investments are pooled with other institutions’ that already have fossil fuel free investment options to move our accounts to those divested funds. Since some of these managers do not have that option, our third request is that they move our investments to fossil fuel-free funds when they are available. This partial divestment proposal, developed after meetings with President Smith and Vice President of Finance Greg Brown, avoids the major financial challenges cited by the Board, namely the potential costs of changing managers. Simply put, this gives the board no legitimate financial reasons to avoid divestment.

   To pass, the referendum only needs 30 percent of students to vote. Of these 30 percent, a majority of those voting yes or no ― that is, those who do not vote “no preference” ― must vote yes for it to pass. Currently, over 50 percent of students and over 2000 alumni have signed MJ’s petition calling on the board to divest, so there is substantial support for divestment on or off campus. But to show the board that student support is strong enough to support a specific list of demands, we all must vote. Each yes vote is not only a call for the board to finally listen to the voices of students, but also a moral stand taken in favor of pushing the country toward just climate action in a time when the short-term greed of fossil fuel companies directs the climate policies of the government that supposedly represents us.

With our votes, divestment can once again be brought to the forefront of the board’s attention at their February meeting. While the referendum itself cannot force the board to divest, it will present a powerful message that students will not tolerate our institution’s neutrality as climate change causes worldwide suffering and is simultaneously ignored at the highest levels of government. But to send this message for climate justice, we all need to raise our voices and vote for divestment.

Students, faculty attend walk-out and teach-in for climate justice

in Around Campus/News by

There is no shortage of public outcry across the country in protest of the newly established Trump administration. As recently as Monday, January 23rd, members of Swarthmore Mountain Justice, in collaboration with over 50 other colleges across the country, organized a walk-out / teach-in aimed at calling attention to the environmentally-threatening rhetoric of the Trump administration.

The walk-out / teach-in, though student run and organized, was a collective effort between Mountain Justice and appointed faculty to rally the general college population to reject climate denialism. A walk-out is a form of protests where participants walk out of their workplace or classroom to gather for a rally; a teach-in refers to a somewhat casual lecture made by expects aimed at educating protest participants.  For Mountain Justice, an organization whose main focus is to push the college to divest their endowment from fossil fuel companies, the proposed policies of the Trump administration are especially troubling as they hinder environmental justice on a larger scale.

Stephen O’Hanlon ’17, a longtime member and coordinator of Mountain Justice, spoke about how the Trump administration’s policies conflict with the cause.

“[On Friday,] Donald Trump was inaugurated as president of the United States. At noon, when I guess he officially took office, all of the information on climate science was taken off of the White House webpage. He’s nominated Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon … Companies like Exxon have been imperiling communities around the world and the very future of our generation, and now, they have [a] huge influence in this administration,” he said.

Trump’s nomination of Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State has been hotly contested because of his 40-year leadership role in ExxonMobil, an American oil and gas company attributed with the exploitation and ill-treatment of marginalized communities, as well as his well documented climate science denialism.

One example of this was a statement made by Tillerson during a 2013 annual shareholders meeting where he denied the existence of climate change, a phenomenon scientists have been consistently providing evidence for since the 1970s.

“If you examine the temperature record of the last decade, it really hadn’t changed … I know you will like to hear that as it don’t comport to some of the views of others, but last ten years’ temperatures had been relatively flat,” he purported.

Aru Shiney-Ajay ’20, Coordinator for Mountain Justice, called for Swarthmore to be proactive in its efforts to be socially and environmentally conscious.

“It’s a message to the Swarthmore community and board that, in an era of Trump’s administration with climate denialism so rampant, that Swarthmore can no longer afford to be neutral,” she said.

Protesting the Trump administration on different fronts is not new for Swarthmore’s population. In November, a few short weeks after Trump’s election, students organized a walk-out where hundreds of students, faculty, and staff joined in solidarity with immigrant populations to advocate for their rights and safety. This included the demand, which was eventually met, of the college becoming a Sanctuary Campus. Again, the pro-activism sentiments shared by many at the college was evidenced by the number of students participating in the Women’s March on Washington and Philadelphia to advocate for women’s rights in addition to healthcare, environmental justice, and the rights of marginalized groups.

Melissa Tier ’14, Sustainability Program Manager, lent her support to the students during the walk-out/teach-in, praising the efforts made by the students to protest.

“I certainly think that interacting, having a conversation, taking action against the climate denialism of our current administration is essential. That takes a lot of different forms; a teach-in is fantastic way to go about it, it’s one of many and I hope it continues,” she said.

On the topic of campus protest, Tier also spoke about the history of protest at Swarthmore and campus activism, noting that she thought that mass participation from the campus community was wonderful.

“A teach-in is an excellent approach, one that’s actually not new to Swarthmore…during my time as a student at Swarthmore, we definitely had teach-ins, some of them focused on sustainability and climate justice. I’m always in favor of multi-pronged approaches, both because they can address topics in different ways, and because they can attract different people. I think the more people you can get involved with a topic, the better,” she said.

The news of protests both on and off campus have served to mobilize many students; but some admittedly do not share the same fervor.

Ibrahim Tamale ’20 offered his opinion on participating in protests and why he doesn’t.

“I have not felt any effect socially, or any injustice done against me to go and protest or to take any action. I believe actions should be taken as a reaction to something, but if nothing’s being done to you personally or as a society, then I don’t see why you should be moving forward to take action. Actions should have goals, … and if there are no goals, I don’t see any precedence for taking action at the moment,” he said.

What warrants protest, in Tamale’s opinion, is tied to how deeply one’s sentiments runs for the cause they are protesting for.

“I believe people should only attend rallies and protests if they deeply align with the goals and the motives of those rallies and protests. Based on the friends that I have that have participated in protests in Egypt and Tunisia, I believe it’s all about willing to die for that cause … If people are deeply aligned with the cause and do believe that their rallying and protesting is not going to stop until their cause has been fulfilled, then yes. But if they’re going to do it for one to two weeks then stop, then no,” he said.

Mountain Justice Lead Organizer Abigail Saul ’19 explained the importance of engaging in protest against climate denialism.

“We all have a stake in this issue, and the stake looks different for everyone. Climate justice affects everyone, but it is an inequality multiplier, so it affects certain populations a lot more than it affects others. So, I think it’s important that we all recognize that and stand together with each other, as well as with communities that are going to be most affected by these issues,” she said.

Associate Professor of Sociology and Peace and Conflict Studies Professor Lee Smithey made mention of some of the things he commented on during the event.

“One of my fields of study is social movements; I talked for a couple of minutes about micromobilization … I then said that the calls for divestment shared by students, faculty, staff and alumni is a perfectly reasonable request under the circumstances … The fossil fuel companies’ dangerous business model is to try and make as much profit as they possibly can off of their product even if it means rejecting climate science … by extension, through our investments here at the college, we’re participating in the same plan. I challenged us all to ask really serious questions about that plan,” he said.

Smithey also spoke about the support provided by faculty and staff.

“I think that we are in a historic moment right now with the new administration. I think that there is wide concern among many faculty, staff and students because there are so many different fronts that are under threat at the moment … I counted at least 25 faculty and staff there. I think we should acknowledge that 20 minutes of sacrificing class time is not insignificant in a busy semester, and the fact that many faculty and staff turned out signaled support for the walk-out,” he said.

O’Hanlon asserted that it was imperative for the students and the college to take action in the wake of the new administration.

“As young people, we need to stand up for our futures, for communities around the world, and we need to call on our institution, Swarthmore, as an institution that espouses social justice values, to really stand with our generation, to stand with communities around the world, and to stand for basic science,” O’Hanlon asserted.

Eric Jensen, Professor of Astronomy, made a statement during the event which resonated with many participants, receiving the Swat-famous snaps of approval.

“Just because you don’t know exactly what to do, doesn’t mean you should choose to do nothing,” he said.

In this time of confusion and fear for many across the country, many students glean strength from the support of their peers. On the same token, with the same fear and outrage, many take it upon themselves to mobilize and actively rally against injustices. The pro-activism sentiments at Swarthmore have yet to dwindle and, in the coming years and policy changes introduced by the Trump administration, it remains to be seen what next students will participate in.

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