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Sunrise pushes for new divestment referendum

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Sunrise Swarthmore collected digital signatures last week in an effort to call a Student Government Organization referendum on the school’s investment in fossil fuel companies and the 1991 ban on political considerations when investing. That petition passed with 197 signatures, 29 more than were needed. Sunrise, previously known as Mountain Justice, describes itself as an organization dedicated to stopping climate change and promoting job creation. As Mountain Justice, Sunrise activists were responsible for the student referendum on fossil fuels last academic year

“We are the representative of the student body so if a group of students want to bring up an issue and want to hold a referendum, our goal is to help in the execution of that,” said Nancy Yuan ’20, Co-President of SGO.

To call an SGO referendum, Sunrise needed to collect signatures from 10 percent of the student body. This got the referendum on the SGO ballot, after which SGO assigned a 48-hour voting period beginning Mon. April 16 at 8 p.m. and ending Wed. April 18 at 8 p.m. Students will be able to vote online during that time. There will also be a debate, per the new SGO constitution, on the referendum on April 16 from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Sci 101. Sunrise needs one-third of the student body to vote in favor of the referendum to pass.

“The part that is important to us is the debate that will happen, so that people who also have opposing views to this can express their concerns, so the student body can be the most informed they can be about this, because this is a campus issue,” said Yuan.

Sunrise is asking the college, but more specifically the Board of Managers, to divest from fossil fuel companies. The divestment campaign began at the college in 2010 and is the longest-running fossil fuel divestment campaign in the world, according to Aru Shiney-Ajay ’20, a student leader in Sunrise.

The group is also asking that the Board repeal the 1991 ban preventing the board from divesting for social reasons. The Board announced their decision to divest from apartheid South Africa in 1986 following over a decade of student activism. By 1990, the school had fully divested In 1991, the Board adopted a new investment strategy, specifying that the “Investment Committee manages the endowment to yield the best long-term financial results, rather than to pursue other social objectives.”

The first time that the board announced it would stick by its 1991 financial decision was in September 2013. In 2015, students staged a protest in Parrish Parlors for 32 consecutive days calling for divestment from fossil fuels. Last year, an SGO referendum passed calling the Board of Managers to divest. In response, the Board reaffirmed their 2015 commitment to the 1991 resolution.

To a portion of students on campus, that 1991 strategy appears morally incomprehensible when juxtaposed with the 1986 decision to divest.

“The precedent the school set [by instituting the 1991 ban and not listening to last year’s referendum] was that the school was wrong in divesting from apartheid which means that the school is saying they should not have done that and they should have continued to support that,” Yuan said.

But Timothy Burke, a professor specializing in modern African history and chair of the History Department, has been critical of these efforts. In an opinion piece for The Phoenix published in 2015 titled “Against Divestment,” Burke writes that divestment from oil companies is perhaps simply window dressing. He argues that many other companies that the college is likely to invest in are as responsible for human rights violations, climate change, and armaments as are oil companies.  

“If the goal is moral purity—a college without dependence upon destructive, exploitative, unethical businesses or institutions—it is hard to imagine the investment screen that could accomplish that to general satisfaction,” wrote Burke.

Nevertheless, Shiney-Ajay and Jissel Becerra Reyes ’20, another member of Sunrise, say that the Board of Managers is resisting efforts to repeal the ban and divest because they had such a negative experience in 1991.

“After the Board of Managers divested from apartheid in 1991, they [supposedly] cited the process as being too scarring for them. And I think that points to the Board of Managers being very avoidant and not being completely comfortable answering moral and social questions about investment, and I think that is very antithetical to Swarthmore’s stated purpose to take into consideration social and ethical concerns,” said Shiney-Ajay.

“It’s just a matter of time before the Board has to engage with these questions,” said Becerra Reyes.

Swarthmore 21 causes debate in the Borough

in Around Campus/News/Regional News by

A group of Swarthmore citizens working to allow liquor licenses in the Ville will finish collecting signatures this Sunday. The organizers, called Swarthmore 21, have been collecting signatures for the last several weeks on a petition reading, “Do you favor the granting of liquor licenses for the sale of liquor in the Borough of Swarthmore?” Swarthmore 21 hopes to get the referendum on the May 16 primary ballot. In order to get on the ballot, the group has to collect 863 signatures before the March 7 deadline.

If passed, the referendum will allow two liquor licenses to be purchased by companies in the Ville.

The rationale for the two-license limit is outlined in  a Pennsylvania state law that issues one license to a county for every 3,000 people. Should a third business desire to carry a license, it will have to petition the Borough Council.

According to organizer Pat Francher, the referendum would not add more liquor licenses to Delaware County. Rather, it would only allow Swarthmore businesses to purchase previously existing licenses.

“I know there are people out there that are sitting on licenses. In other words, they don’t own a restaurant. They bought a license at some point in the past as an investment … it’s like owning gold,” said Francher.

The current market price for a liquor license is around $200,000. In addition to buying the license, businesses may have to renovate their space to ensure they meet the requirements set by the state, such as the inclusion of food sales and seating for 30 people.

If the referendum passes, the licenses will be granted on a first-come, first-served basis. Whichever businesses acquire the capital to buy a license and meet state requirements will receive the license.

Why people support

There are many reasons residents of Swarthmore support the referendum, such as easier access to alcohol, increasing economic liberties, and building up downtown Swarthmore.

Organizer Vince Barrett notes that the group believes that the referendum will benefit all of Swarthmore.

“It goes right back to the core mission of the group, which is to make more of our downtown. To hopefully close the empty storefronts, or I should say fill the empty storefronts,” said Barrett. “I’ve lived literally all over the world. I’ve lived many places here in the U.S. when I came to this town there was a lot that I loved, and I still do love. I love that it is a college town. I love the people, I love the trees, the sidewalks, all the things that you normally hear of. But the downtown always perplexed me in that since I’ve been here,  less than three years, the number of empty store fronts have grown.”

President of the Swarthmore Conservatives Gilbert Guerra ’19 has been working with Swarthmore 21 to try to gain signatures. Guerra sees this as a bi-partisan issue.

“I think as Swarthmore students, one of the complaints we have about this college is the downtown section is pretty much dead” said Guerra. “I really do believe that if more restaurants have access to liquor licenses, more restaurants will be able to turn a profit and have more of an investment in actually opening up in Swarthmore and being involved in the local community. I think it would help students, I think it would help the local community as well. I really see no downsides to it.”

Jonathan Kay ’20 has also helped to collect signatures on campus. He sees the main advantage as economic, also noting that it also questions the arcaneness of the current law.

“The question isn’t really do we want alcohol in this borough but more what gives the government the right to not allow people to do that. So even if you might not be super excited about the idea of, let’s say you live in the Ville and your not excited about students having more ready access to alcohol. … I think even they might be okay with this and might support this because they acknowledge that this is a ridiculous arcane provision to have still around,” said Kay.

Discourse surrounding opposition

Although the majority of people seem to be in favor of the referendum, some have raised concerns.

One concern brought up by the owner of Occasionally Yours, Scott Richardson, in a recent Daily Gazette article was that the licenses would only benefit the businesses who are able to receive them.

Francher explained that this would not be the case. Allowing two businesses to obtain liquor licenses would increase foot traffic in the Ville and help all businesses. This phenomenon has been seen in several other Pennsylvania towns who have removed the prohibition on liquor licenses.

“This is not about picking winners or losers. This is about creating the rising tide that is going to lift all boats, and I guess secondly to that is what’s stopping him from doing it, nothing’s stopping him from doing that. If he thinks that’s the key to success then he should raise the money to expand his physical footprint and acquire the license and open the business in that way,” said Barrett.

Some people, on and off campus, have expressed concern about college students deciding the election. Some say that people who live here for four years should not be deciding how the town is run.

Guerra addressed the concern that college students would have a disproportionate influence in the referendum by arguing that college students live in this town for four years and should have the right to vote in borough’s elections. Even people who live in the Ville may not be here for four years.

Barrett says despite the fact that Swarthmore 21 has been canvassing on campus, most of the signatures have come from residents. Swarthmore 21 has been tabeling at Sharples but says most of the signatures come from residents.

“In terms of the students deciding it, I don’t know that the number of signatures that we have, and I haven’t counted them one by one, but the number of signatures we have I would say 80 [to] 90 percent are residents to the five to 10 percent that are students,” said Barrett.

The referendum, if passed,  will be on the May 16th ballot, occurring after students leave for the summer break. In order to vote, students would have to request an absentee ballot.

“If we get the signatures, then we would start talking about phase two, which is how do we get the vote out. If students who have signed that petition are that interested: number one, we appreciate significantly that they took the time and the interest to do this, but if they’re that interested then why shouldn’t they be filing an absentee ballot. It is their choice” said Barrett.

Francher agreedt, but Swarthmore 21 has not made plans for a significant get-out-the-vote campaign on campus if the referendum is put on the ballot.

One issue that was brought up with the referendum was up for vote in 2001 was that allowing liquor licenses would increase disorderly conduct and other alcohol related arrests in the town.

Swarthmore 21 makes the argument that the opening of the Inn and their liquor licenses has disproven this fact. Francher says that since the opening of the Inn, the Borough has not seen an increase in alcohol related arrests.

Swarthmore College Alcohol and Other Drugs Counselor Josh Ellow said that it is impossible to know how the liquor licenses could affect the Borough, but these discussions could help the Borough prepare.

“It’s hard to know because a lot of the time, people are taking their assumptions and expectations about what an environment with alcohol looks like, and then attributing these traits to this setting before they knowing what the system would actually look like. That can be problematic or it can be a good proactive way to make sure things are in order,” said Ellow.

On campus impact

In regards to how the liquor licenses would impact the party scene at Swarthmore, Kay says he did not think it would change patterns in students’ alcohol consumption.

“It’s not really like this is going to fundamentally change the dynamic of liquor consumption at the college or the borough. This is going to help some local businesses … it’s going to be little things, but it is long overdue,” said Kay.

Ellow has not seen changes to the town since the opening of the Inn at Swarthmore. He believes that more licenses would not have a drastic effect of alcohol consumption on campus. He said the college would assess changes as they occured.

Ellow says the responsibility of making sure alcohol consumption was both legal and responsible. He mentioned several precautions businesses could take, such as training servers to know when to stop serving a person who may be over-consuming and getting the technology to make sure the I.D.s were legal.

It is unclear if the presence of more licenses would result in more alcohol-related arrests.

“If it happened in the Ville it would probably be part of either a MOU [memorandum of understanding] between pubsafe, or Swarthmore police, or maybe a specific policy consideration at least, how that would be handled. Technically if something happened [in the Ville] and Swarthmore police come they don’t have to necessarily tell Swarthmore’s Pub Safe or link our campus in any way. I think because the relationship has been close, maybe they would with a simple thing like that. So it might still look the same way where if something happened there, and Swarthmore police told the campus, [the Borough police] would essentially be doing the same thing as if they got transported from our campus would look,” said Ellow.  

Moving forward

Once Swarthmore 21 is done collecting signatures on Sunday, it will turn the petition over to the Borough who will then verify the petition. Barrett is cautiously optimistic that Swarthmore 21 will be able to collect the 863 signatures that are required for the referendum to get on the ballot, but said they will not know for sure if the referendum is on the ballot for several weeks.

If the referendum does make the ballot, students who are registered in Swarthmore will have to make a decision as to if they want to request an absentee ballot for the election. The request would have to be filed in April, meaning any get out the vote organization on campus would have only a few weeks to organize.

After SGO referendum, board still votes “no”

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Mountain Justice spearheads vote on partial divestment, with less than ideal response

A majority of students who participated in a referendum this week voted in favor of taking steps to divest the college’s endowment from coal, oil, and natural gas companies within five years. In response to the Student Government Organization-sponsored referendum on Monday Feb. 20th and Tuesday the 21st, President Valerie Smith and Chair of the Board of Managers Thomas E. Spock ’78 sent a statement to the student body via email on Wednesday afternoon stating that the Board’s decision not to divest from fossil fuels on a full or partial basis would stand. The move to initiate a referendum was spearheaded by Swarthmore Mountain Justice, a student group on campus committed to fossil fuel divestment. While the referendum was ultimately unsuccessful in changing the decision of the Board of Managers, the renewed push initiated new conversations on the topic of divestment across campus through various channels.

Initial Discussions

MJ Coordinator Aru Shiney-Ajay ’20 said that the idea for an SGO-sponsored referendum was first discussed at an MJ meeting roughly three weeks ago. After the meeting, members of MJ began reaching out to members of the student body to collect the required 10 percent of signatures required for any SGO referendum to be formally initiated, as outlined in the text of the SGO Constitution. MJ Coordinator Stephen O’Hanlon ’17 said that MJ also reached out to SGO to learn more about the process because there were uncertainties regarding the initiation of a referendum.

Shiney-Ajay said that MJ submitted the referendum proposal to SGO a week later, but encountered some delays upon submission.

“It took a really long time for us to confirm with them that they had received it and confirm the dates with them about when the referendum would be held. So that was a little bit of a setback,” she said.

MJ has historically been a group that relies on activist-style tactics, including walkouts, sit-ins, and teach-ins to further its cause. However, O’Hanlon stated that the group wanted to create a tangible way for the student body to have the opportunity to give the Board of Managers a clear mandate for action through established channels.

“Our hope is that the Board takes this seriously if it passes and addresses it at their Board meeting this weekend,” O’Hanlon said.

Shiney-Ajay emphasized that the Board’s March 1989 decision to divest from South African funds in light of apartheid came after many years of sustained action, and felt that a longer time frame for action on divestment was not a cause for concern. MJ formed in mid-October of 2010, pursuing action for divestment for almost seven years.

The referendum itself was a one-question Google Forms poll that asked students to vote “in favor,” “against,” or “abstain” on a series of steps for the Board to divest from coal, oil, and natural gas companies within five years. The steps included “screening out” holdings in the Carbon Underground 200, which, according to Fossil Free Indexes LLC, is a list of the top 100 public coal companies globally and the top 100 public oil and gas companies globally ranked by their potential carbon emissions. The referendum also included a demand for the Board to switch college accounts to fossil fuel-free funds. The SGO Constitution states that if a referendum passes, SGO shall comply with the terms of the referendum within the limits of its authority. It is unclear to what extent SGO can comply with the terms of a referendum calling on the Board to divest from fossil fuels.  

SGO Implementation

As reported in a Feb. 14 Daily Gazette news article, a discussion of the referendum occurred at a SGO meeting on Feb. 12. The article states that SGO had an “intense deliberation” on whether they should co-host a study break session with MJ. The guidelines of the SGO constitution state that SGO shall notify the student body of the pending election and that the referendum shall be held within two academic weeks of SGO receiving a referendum petition. Therefore, it is self-evident that MJ’s referendum received the necessary signatures before SGO Chair of Internal Affairs Won Chung ’18 sent an email to all students on Jan. 19 announcing the voting date on the referendum.  Co-President of SGO Mosea Esaias ’17 said that there was roughly a week between the last SGO meeting and the time slated to administer the referendum.

“No matter the result of the referendum, I urge you to find out more about divestment,” Chung concluded the message. Despite Chung’s neutral signoff, the Feb. 12 Daily Gazette article also states that several SGO members were concerned about SGO’s political stance on divestment as it administered the referendum.

“There’s been much debate about the language of this [referendum] specifically. Usually SGO meetings are an hour long, [but] this one took about two hours because we had to deliberate on what this [referendum] meant and what it meant for SGO to deliver this referendum,” said SGO Senator Christian Galo ’20.

Galo stressed that administering the referendum did not mean that SGO was taking a stand on the issue of divestment. He was also uncertain if the passing of the referendum meant that SGO would be required to adopt a pro-divestment stance.

The referendum was released to the student body on Jan. 20, and several events were held to publicize and promote discussion of the terms in the referendum. On Jan. 20, Chung sent another email to all students publicizing an event titled “Coffee, Cupcakes, and Climate Chat,” in Shane Lounge at 9 p.m. Posters for the event encourage students to “stop by for food, learn more about the divestment referendum, and get [their] questions answered.” The poster is co-signed by SGO and MJ.

Shiney-Ajay confirmed that Mountain Justice did receive funding from SGO for the Jan. 20 event. However, it is unclear what the funds being used to support the “Coffee, Cupcakes and Climate Chat” event should be called. Esaias said that SGO used a “minimal” part of its budget to support the same Jan. 20 event, but stressed that the event was sponsored as a partnership between the two groups.

“Our intent in hosting an information session was to provide the community with more information about the referendum, the referendum process, and to create a forum for questions.  This is not quite the same as publicizing the referendum, which we interpreted as partisan campaigning in support of or against it,” he said.

“We [did not give money] to Mountain Justice. We partnered with Mountain Justice, who petitioned for the referendum in order to let the student body know more about [the referendum,]” Esaias continued.

He confirmed that there was no other organization that gathered an opposing referendum.

“We partnered with the organization that actually petitioned for the referendum, as we would do in any case,” he continued.

Furthermore, Esaias said that he did not feel that partnering with Mountain Justice would influence the results of the referendum.

“We’re giving them a platform. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we are endorsing their specific demands. It just means that we’re giving them a space to express their concerns … the funding is not for the group. The funding is for the referendum,” he said.

According to the SGO Constitution, SGO is responsible for paying for all costs of a student-initiated referendum, excluding the costs of publicizing specific resolutions. However, Shiney-Ajay explicitly stated that the Jan. 20 event was to publicize the referendum and let people ask questions about it. But, at the Feb. 12 SGO meeting during the discussion of the information session, SGO Senators insisted that the event be labeled an “information session” without an explicit mandate to “publicize” the event or to take a position on divestment before the results of the referendum. Esaias confirmed that this was the result of a miscommunication between MJ and representatives of SGO about the intent of the event. Thus, it is also unclear if SGO’s sponsorship of  the “Coffee, Cupcakes and Climate Chat” event is in violation of the provisions of the SGO Constitution.

When asked about the situation, Joseph DeBrine ’18 expressed concerns that there weren’t enough chances for students to get comprehensive information about the referendum before they were asked to vote.

“It would be so much more powerful if we had more stuff like [the “Coffee, Cupcakes, and Climate Chat.] What if they had done this a few times? [What if they had] big information sessions that were geared towards everyone, not just MJ?” DeBrine said.

He also questioned why the Board of Managers’ position would change as a result of the referendum, when it had already voted against divestment multiple times in previous years.

In addition to the Jan. 20 event, Mountain Justice also held a “Dogs for Divestment” event from 3-5pm on Parrish Beach on Jan. 21 to answer questions about the referendum and to “play with all the dogs who support divestment,” as stated on a Facebook event page titled “Vote YES to Divest.” Shiney-Ajay confirmed that MJ did not receive any SGO financial support for this event.

Opposition to the referendum

Other discussions about the referendum also took place around campus earlier this week. Swarthmore Conservative Society held a roundtable discussion with members of Mountain Justice in Sharples on Feb. 21 to discuss the provisions of the referendum. At the roundtable, students expressed a number of concerns about the impacts of divestment. Patrick Holland ’17 pointed out that the current referendum advocates for partial divestment, which he called “very complicated.” Holland specifically mentioned the second point in the referendum, which calls for the college to “switch … account[s] to the fossil fuel free fund,” as a cause for concern.

“None of us know… how large the fees are going to be from switching from one of these funds to another. They could be pretty substantial,” he said.

Shiney-Ajay, who was at the roundtable, agreed that MJ would also be interested in having an open discussion about the costs associated with switching from one fund to another, which is not currently public knowledge.

In individual conversations, students share a wide range of opinions on the subject of divestment. Nikki Miller ’17 voted “In favor” of the referendum because of her background learning about environmentalism.

“We should be divesting. [Not divesting] is not really a sustainable way to get energy and I think there are … better ways to spend our money,” Miller said.

She also believed that Mountain Justice handled the administration of the referendum well.

Other students felt that the time frame for the referendum was not an ideal one. President of the Swarthmore Conservative Society Gilbert Guerra ’19 heard about the referendum on Jan. 17.

“To be quite frank, I don’t know a lot about the specifics of divestment, which is why I think you need more than four days to really make an educated vote on divestment,” he said.

Guerra also expressed concerns that students would not know the difference between the provisions of this referendum and previous divestment-related campaigns.

“I don’t think anyone expects that a majority of Swarthmore students aren’t for divestment. But I do think they should know more about what they’re voting on. I also think that’s beneficial for Mountain Justice in the long run because they have a bit of a PR problem,” Guerra continued.

Guerra believes that some might think Mountain Justice to be a “sketchy group” with a negative image in some circles.

Noah Landay ’19, a self-identified moderate, shared Guerra’s sentiment that the referendum was sprung on the student body pretty suddenly.

“I would have really liked to have seen a town hall discussion. I think that it may have been advantageous to the Mountain Justice camp to have this held so quickly because the only vocal voices in this debate have been pro-divestment,” Landay said.

He also thought that SGO’s partnership with MJ on the referendum did not necessarily imply that SGO had a stake in the referendum. Rather, Landay said he was skeptical of allegations of collusion between SGO and MJ given the absence of evidence.

“It’s really hard on a small campus to not have any conflicts of interests at all, but I think a public forum would have been really good,” he continued.

When asked about the results of the referendum, Landay was not sure what direct policy outcomes would result.

“It just doesn’t make sense … there’s really no way of enforcing [the referendum.] If the administration decided not to comply, they have no accountability mechanism,” he said.

He felt that the referendum itself was more of a political statement.

“[The Board has] obviously made up its mind already,” Landay continued.

Internal SGO Concerns

Even within SGO, there have been concerns about the implementation and intentions behind implementing this referendum. In a series of emails sent on Monday to the entire SGO Student Senate obtained by the Phoenix, Senator Gilbert Orbea ’19 expressed serious concerns regarding the referendum.

“I am gravely disappointed that we followed through without more deliberation and a truly thought-out process,” he said.

Orbea argued that there are serious concerns about who has access to the confidential listing of votes and email addresses associated with those votes. Second, Orbea felt that there was not enough time for proper debate on the merits of the referendum.

“The Daily Gazette has something like seven articles coming out today. Who has time to read those and get an informed opinion?” Orbea wrote.  He claimed that the Jan. 20 information session was an information session “in name only” and believed the event had a “decidedly biased twinge.” He concluded by calling the referendum “rushed, thought out poorly, and lopsided,” and called for a redo of the referendum in the following week. SGO Senators Margaret Cohen ’19 and Yin Xiao ’20 supported Orbea’s concerns and also called on the referendum to be redone at a later date in the email chain.
Chung also contributed to the email chain, agreeing that the referendum was rushed, but did not feel that the referendum should be cancelled.

“Cancelling the referendum now would de-legitimize SGO and the entire referendum process,” he said.

In response to the concerns outline above, Esaias responded to the Senate in an email by reiterating that SGO was administering the referendum in accordance with constitutional standards surrounding referenda. He said that SGO was obligated to hear the concerns of the student body when a significant share of the student body presents SGO with a referendum.

“As to whether we would administer the referendum was never up for discussion. What then, did we fail to deliberate?” he asked.

Esaias agreed that it would have been more ideal if SGO had additional time between reception of a petition and the administration of a referendum, but dismissed that concern as a separate issue. Addressing Orbea directly, Esaias said he was “disappointed to hear” the concern that the process was rushed and lopsided, and encouraged Orbea “as a student senator and representative of SGO … [to] would work to assuage.” He dispelled the notion that it was possible to be unbiased as an individual with training in Peace and Conflict Studies.

“Every action that we take … carries political meaning and implications. Given this, it is not impartiality after which SGO is in pursuit because to claim to be impartial would be to overlook and ignore the very real political consequences and contexts surrounding our actions,” he continued. However, Esaias rejected the notion that SGO was endorsing an individual group’s specific demands.

“Mountain Justice has a right to communicate their platform to this community,” he said. He also stressed that canceling the referendum was out of the question.


After the two days of voting concluded on Feb. 21, Chung released an email early Wednesday morning to the student body detailing the results of the referendum. There was a turnout of 55 percent of the student body, with 708 voting for the referendum, 149 against, with 23 abstaining. 80.5 percent of those that voted were in favor of the referendum, meaning that SGO must comply with the terms of the referendum within the limits of its authority.

However, on Wednesday afternoon, Smith and Spock released a statement to the entire student body stating that the previous decision of the Board of Managers not to divest would still stand in light of the referendum. Smith and Spock said they appreciated the time and effort that went into developing the referendum, but that the Board’s decision was made following three years of thoughtful and detailed study and analysis from 2013 to 2015.

“That decision stands, but the subject of climate change is of ultimate and deep concern to us. As we have said before, we believe that the magnitude of this issue underscores the need for Swarthmore to champion meaningful and sustained efforts that will model best practices to reduce carbon consumption, educate our students on the causes and consequences of climate change, and demonstrate national and global leadership in sustainability initiatives,” they said. The email also outlined several ongoing initiatives related to reducing carbon consumption and innovative sustainability education.

In response to the statement by Spock and Smith, members of Mountain Justice were disappointed, but were confident that through more pressure from the campus community, they will stand on the right side of history once more by divesting from the fossil fuel industry.

“Given the landslide victory of the referendum, and given the urgency of climate action, we are very disappointed the Board has chosen to ignore this student mandate. The Board has often spoken of their commitment to a just and sustainable future; we had hoped to be able to open a conversation with them on partial divestment based on our shared goals,” members of Mountain Justice wrote in a statement.

At the present moment, Mountain Justice has not outlined their next course of action to continue the conversation.

News Editor Ganesh Setty contributed reporting to this article.

Why the Board should listen to the divestment referendum

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

In 2013, I was skeptical of divestment. I reasoned through simple, and undoubtedly naïve, cost-benefit analysis that the expected gains in terms of direct reduction of fossil fuel consumption did not outweigh potential losses faced by the college. Nevertheless, I decided to vote in favor of partial divestment.

  In my opinion, the strongest argument against divestment is that it will not directly lead to the reduction of fossil fuel consumption. I still believe this is probably true, but I recognize that this is a severely limited view on the potential benefits of divestment. Is the average American paying attention to Swarthmore’s endowment? No. Are they paying attention to the divestment movement? Probably not. But the average American does know about climate change, and divestment has to be included as part of the larger movement to combat the irreversible human-induced damage to our planet. Although Swarthmore’s commitments to reducing its carbon footprint, including the Sustainability Framework, are admirable, climate change will not be solved by individual self-restraint. It requires a global movement that begins and ends with societal perceptions of fossil fuels. It’s easy to dismiss divestment by claiming that nobody pays attention to the movement. But, when we look back years from now, it’ll be incredibly difficult to justify why we did not divest.

  What I find most frustrating is the assurance that maintaining our investments in fossil fuels is the way to “yield the best long term financial results.” I won’t go so far as to say the divestment will be absolutely profitable, nor will I claim to know more about investment than the Board of Managers. However, they are not the only authorities on the subject. Expert views on the cost of divestment are more mixed than conclusive, and, more importantly, there is real financial risk involved in maintaining our holdings. Even if we take the Board of Managers own $200 million shortfall as divestment’s worst possible outcome, who’s to say that retaining our holdings is safer?

  Solar prices have fallen below wind prices in developing countries. BP’s 2017 Energy Outlook expects the number of electric vehicles to expand from 1.2 million in 2015 to 100 million by 2035. An (albeit optimistic) Grantham Institute at Imperial College study expects demand for coal and oil to peak in 2020. We are biased to expect past trends to continue unchanged, and if they don’t, we should be very concerned about being left holding the empty oil drum. Professionals with billions of dollars at stake failed spectacularly in 2008, and I don’t see any reason to believe massive strides in our ability to avoid herd mentality and predict the future have been made in the last decade.  

  It remains to be seen why we as students should be forced to accept the judgment of professional investors when there is no clear consensus in the expert world. If we believe students deserve any say at all in how the endowment is invested, why can’t partial divestment be an appropriate compromise? An 80 percent vote in favor of divestment from 55 percent of the student body deserves more than an immediate dismissal; there should be real debate.

  Divestment won’t drive fossil fuel companies to financial ruin. Still, whether due to a whirlwind of technological development or an uptick in visible damage from natural disaster, the consumption of fossil fuels is going to have to end sooner or later. If we are truly concerned about long term financial results, the real question shouldn’t be “why divest?” Instead, it should be “why not divest?”


In referendum, vote for divestment, vote for justice

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

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.

No action on approved referendum

in Around Campus/News by

Last semester, the campus voted in favor of a referendum that Greek organizations admit students of all genders. However, no action to enforce this proposal has been taken.

The movement began on February 14, when a group of students petitioned for a referendum on Greek life on campus. The propositions of the referendum included proposals to make fraternity houses substance free spaces, to disaffiliate from their national chapters and eliminate Greek life on campus entirely. However, only the proposal to admit students of all genders into fraternities passed.

Although the student body voted in favor of admitting students of all genders into Greek organizations, a referendum is not a binding motion and simply acts as a means for the administration to see what the community wants.

“Referendums are a mechanism utilized by Student Council to take the ‘temperature’ or to get feedback from the student body regarding a particular issue.  They are not binding,” said Dean of Students Elizabeth Braun.

In addition, no action has been taken to enforce this referendum due to the lack of clarity about the wording of the proposal. The proposal, which read “Do you support admitting students of all genders to sororities and fraternities?” lead to confusion amongst the deans and the student body.

“The question itself was vaguely worded[…]Some people read it as do we allow people of all genders in our house during all social events, and some people read it as should the fraternities be co-ed,” said Yeab Wondimu ‘14, president of Delta Upsilon.

Although the referendum has not officially been enforced, it has inspired the fraternities to reform past policies.

“Phi Psi is currently holding rush events that have been published and distributed to the entire school,” said Zach Schaffer ’14, president of Phi Psi. “All students are welcome to attend to learn more about our organization and the current members.”

In addition, Delta Upsilon has collaborated with Phi Psi, Brennan Klein ’14 and Eve Dimagno ’15 to bring Jackson Katz, an educator, author, filmmaker and social theorist, to speak about sexual assault later this year.

“We’ll let anybody into our house,” said Wondimu. “Everybody’s welcome in our house regardless of gender. When it comes to letting people pledge of different genders that’s the international, they have their policies. For us to be associated with DU, we have to follow the policies.”

While it is unclear what actions will be taken in regards to the referendum , some students believe that  the student body may demand more action.

“If students have the wherewithal to continue pushing against Greek life so be it, I can’t predict anything,” wrote Nora Kerrich ’14. “The administration is going to review Swarthmore’s drug and alcohol policy, which is inextricably linked to the wet spaces on campus, half of which are maintained by fraternities. “At this point that is where I see restrictions occurring, but those are not going to focus on Greek life as an institution, which is permitted to exist at Swarthmore, linked with the continued perpetuation of rape culture, racism, and classism,” she said. “If participants in Greek life want to distance themselves from those oppressive systems, they should reconsider their motivations for associating themselves with Greek life at all and actively seek out alternatives.”

Greek leader say the referendum has encouraged the Greek organizations on campus to re-examine their communication with other student groups.

“I felt like the lines of communication between us as a fraternity and other student groups on campus weren’t open and I think the referendum was a big wake up call. We have to put in effort to open up those lines of communication,” said Wondimu.

“In a way the referendum was productive for us. The campus discussions that happened all last semester were very eye-opening. I think it will help us make our house a more safe space,” said Matthew Bertuch ’14, social chair of DU.


CORRECTION: The first version of this article, which was printed, failed to note that Phi Psi, Eve Dimagno ’15 and Brennan Klein ’14 were involved with the effort to bring the educator Jackson Katz to campus. Katz will be speaking later this year.

One Referendum Passes, Five Fail

in Around Campus/News by

After one of the college’s most heated debates, students voted down all but one of the referendum propositions that sought to alter the shape of Greek life on campus. With roughly 80 percent of the student population casting a ballot, students rejected proposals to disaffiliate Greek organizations from their national chapters, eliminate, reduce or make fraternity houses into substance-free spaces, or ban Greek life altogether.

Supporters of Greek life were, overall, pleased with the outcome of the referendum. “I’d say that as a group, Phi Psi is satisfied,” said Zachary Schaffer ’14, the president of Phi Psi.

Rory McTear ’13, the president of Delta Upsilon (DU), expressed the same sentiment. “We’re definitely satisfied by the results,” he said.

The end of the referendum marks an important moment in the dialogue and, for now, an end to the campaign to ban fraternities that began on February 14 when several students posted a petition to have a referendum on the existence of Greek life. “I don’t see the sense in pushing for something the community doesn’t want,” said Joyce Wu ’15, one of the students who started the petition.

Wu, however, added that the percentages of votes many of the proposals received meant that, regardless of failure, there were still concerns that must be addressed. “Two of them had 36 percent of people saying ‘yes,’” said Wu. “With those numbers, it gives us a way to move forward in taking action.”

Furthermore, not all of the referendum was voted down. By a 20-percent margin, students voted in favor of having Greek organizations admit students of all genders. That proposition will now be forwarded to the Deans’ Office, college president and Board of Managers, who will have the final say on its implementation.

Associate Dean of Student Life Myrt Westphal said that the administration was not yet entirely sure what its response to the passing proposition would be. But male students shouldn’t plan on rushing Kappa Alpha Theta too soon.

“I would say not to expect any immediate changes in policy,” said Westphal, who said that before administrators could examine that proposition, they first needed to clarify what exactly it meant.

“We don’t know what question two is telling us because of the way it was worded,” she said. “If it had been worded, ‘we think all of the fraternities should be co-ed,’ then that would be different.” But as Westphal pointed out, some students voted in favor of that proposition thinking it would ensure that a trans woman, for example, could rush the sorority, and not that it would mean a self-identifying man could join Theta.

“I think people who had diametrically opposed opinions may have voted the same way because they misunderstood the question,” she said.

While McTear said that he and the other brothers of Delta Upsilon were “one-hundred percent in support of” the concept of a co-ed Greek institution, he felt forcing Delta Upsilon to go co-ed would be a bad idea. “It would jeopardize our relationships with the national fraternity if we were to become a co-ed, gender inclusive fraternity. That’s a relationship we really cherish and want to maintain,” he said, emphasizing that the students voted that they did not support having Greek organizations disaffiliate. “The student body has agreed … that we should maintain our national affiliation, so that’s something we don’t want to jeopardize.”

Wu understood Delta Upsilon’s situation, pointing out that because the provision calling for the fraternities to disassociate with their national charters failed, asking them to admit more than one gender was tricky. “They are kind of contradictory,” Wu said, adding that she, and others, would need to talk to more people before any decision could be made.

According to Schaffer, the provision poses less of a problem for Phi Psi. “It’s more of an issue for the people who have national charters.”

While Schaffer could make no firm predictions for what would happen if someone who was not male tried to join Phi Psi, he suggested that the group would not close its doors. “I don’t think we’d turn them away. I think we have to be open and let them go through the process.”

He added that while there was no precedent for having Phi Psi be gender-inclusive, there is not, as far as he can remember, any prohibition on students of other genders joining. “Anyone is free to join if they want. They just have to go through the normal pledging process,” Schaffer said.

Still, Schaffer said that the organization would prefer to wait till the administration makes a final decision, and that, based on tradition, the fraternity would prefer to stay exclusive to male students. “I think our alumni would like to see it sort of stay with the composition that it has now,” he said.

But while Schaffer was less concerned about the ultimate outcome of the referendum, he was not pleased with the way the fight was conducted.

“I think the way the referendum process turned out was kind of embarrassing,” he said. “It turned into a really ugly thing that started out as a constructive dialogue between the two sides.”

In particular, Schaffer felt that the fraternities came under attacks that were unnecessarily personal.

“I think one of the most disturbing parts of the whole referendum process were the unwarranted accusations,” he said, referring, for example, to the chalkings accusing the organizations of harboring “a certain number of rapists.”

“It’s a false accusation with no evidence, no backing, and no one signing the statement,” he said.

However, Westphal said that some felt that erasing the chalkings crossed the boundaries of censorship. Westphal talked to a number of students in the wake of the chalkings. “One was a woman who had written about a rape of her that someone had washed off the sidewalk and she felt like that was making her rape insignificant and erased.”

But another had the opposite response. “I spoke to another woman who said, ‘I feel like I’m triggered and re-assaulted every time I walk on a pavement around here,’” said Westphal.

McTear felt the debate divided the campus to an unhealthy degree. “It has become a very polarized campus and that’s disheartening.”

Westphal agreed. “I haven’t seen Swarthmore students so strongly opposed to each other as in this conversation or debate.”

Regardless, students felt that the conversation needed to continue. Indeed, McTear indicated that he thought the process, in spite of the polarization, was beneficial. “The discussions, when we had them, were very positive and I hope we continue to have them,” he said, adding that his fraternity was trying to be more attentive to campus concerned.

Ashley Gochoco ’14, one of the leaders of Theta, said the sorority had similar aims. “The referendum serves as a reminder of this reality and the need for the Greek community to play a stronger role in making Swarthmore the most inclusive and safe place possible,” she said.

Wu pointed out that the high turnout rate and rancor indicated that this was an issue people felt strongly about. “Whatever peoples’ opinions are, they definitely do care.”

Joyce Wu is chief copy editor for The Phoenix. She had no role in the production of this article.

From Referendum to Democracy

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

On Monday, after almost two months of petitions and deliberation, students will finally be presented with a referendum on Greek life. This may be the greatest opportunity we as students have to affect the future of Swarthmore. It is time for the Greek system at Swarthmore to be reformed, in keeping with the college’s efforts to maintain a safe, inclusive campus. Monday’s referendum will present students with six questions, all of which pose serious questions that deserve the consideration of the student body. In particular, The Phoenix supports voting ‘yes’ on Questions 2 and 5, which may be the most important steps to dealing with the issues posed by fraternities and sororities on campus.

The Phoenix wholly supports voting in favor of Question 2, which asks: “Do you support admitting students of all genders to sororities and fraternities?” The passage of such a resolution would open up both fraternities and sororities to all students, regardless of gender. Greek life should be as inclusive as any regular campus organization, where gender should be no boundary.

There is little conceivable reason why any campus organization should be closed to certain people on the basis of gender. Not everyone identifies within the gender binary, or with a gender at all. These differences must be respected, and no one should be made uncomfortable by institutions on the basis of their their gender. Yet Greek organizations on campus maintain policies of only admitting students who identify as male, in the case of the fraternities, or female, in the case of the sorority.

This sort of gender-based exclusion should have no place at Swarthmore. Students should be free to join the organizations they choose to without having to think about their gender. Gender should not be a consideration. What interest do Greek organizations have in maintaining their present gender exclusivity?

The passage of this resolution may violate the charters of those Greek organizations affiliated with a national organization, currently Delta Upsilon and Kappa Alpha Theta. It is not our intention to advocate for this side effect. We encourage the national organizations of Delta Upsilon and Kappa Alpha Theta to move themselves from gender exclusivity, to accept members regardless of gender, or at least to allow the Swarthmore chapters to do so.

Beyond this, The Phoenix urges everyone to vote in favor of Question 5 of the referendum, which asks: “Do you support having no campus buildings expressly for the purpose of housing Greek organizations?” The passage of this question would level the playing field, putting Greek organizations on equal footing with all other student groups.

We see no reason why Swarthmore’s fraternities should maintain their dedicated spaces as they do now. No other student organization has a wet space, and building, to themselves. There is nothing that distinguishes them such that they ought to receive special treatment. The fraternities should be treated as any other campus group, they should not have additional privileges.

At the moment, Delta Upsilon and Phi Psi control two of the four major party spaces on campus, with Olde Club and Paces open for anyone to reserve. This is a monstrous imbalance. The fraternities should have no greater access to party spaces than any other group. If they are to host parties, they should have to reserve the spaces the same way as anyone else, and anyone should be able to reserve any party space.

The current Delta Upsilon and Phi Psi houses could be used for many things on campus if they were open to any group. They could remain party spaces, à la Olde Club, and allow all groups greater opportunity to host events. Or they could be converted to any number of other purposes. The campus at large could benefit from these spaces if they were not each controlled by a single group, full time.

We see no reason why Greek organizations should be given preferential treatment by the college; what makes them different from any other student group. As such, they should be required to act like any other student group. They should not have dedicated spaces, these spaces should be open to anyone and any group. They should not be permitted to discriminate on the basis of gender; students should be permitted to join whatever organizations they want, without having to consider gender at all. These changes to Greek organizations would make them more equitable and inclusive.

Beyond these two questions, we encourage everyone to consider the questions posed by the referendum, and to vote on the issue. There are many competing opinions as to what the future of Greek life should be at Swarthmore: the only way to have your voice heard is through your vote.

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