Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Mountain Justice (MJ) has hit Swarthmore’s administration with a hardball, demanding that the college account for all of its investments. Many American universities are investing substantial funds in the fossil fuel industry and others with questionable environmental practices. But MJ is holding Swarthmore to a higher standard.
“We are drawing a connection between how expenses are paid and what companies the school is supporting using our student tuition and other funding,” said Ryane Disken-Cahill ’12, member of the group.
MJ is moving forward with a divestment campaign despite the administration’s refusal to release investment information on the grounds that doing so would violate a contract with fund managers. Without this information, MJ is working to establish a list of companies that it does not want Swarthmore invested in to present to the Board of Managers. Though Mountain Justice’s long-term goal is to have the school divest entirely from fossil fuels, the group is making concessions to work with the administration during this transition.
“Our first goal is to make sure that the school divests for and makes a pact not to invest in 15 of the dirtiest forms of fossil fuels, including fracking, mountain top removal and oil extraction,” said Dinah Dewald ’13.
MJ knows that Swarthmore was invested in ExxonMobil, a company known for unethical environmental practices. In November of 2011, MJ began by writing an open letter Swarthmore’s Board of Managers and Finance Investment Office asking it to make its domestic, international equity investments, real estate and natural resource investments and bonds and bank accounts available to the community.
“We wanted to get a sense of how much we had invested where, and what divestment from fossil fuels would do to the colleges investments and finances,” said Sara Blazevic ’15.
Vice President for Finance and Treasurer Suzanne Welsh responded publicly to the letter in the op-ed section of The Daily Gazette. In her response, Ms. Welsh said that primary concern of the school was to support academic and residential life on campus and that concerns could be brought to Swarthmore’s Committee on Investor Responsibility, comprised of four students, two administrators, and two members of the Investment Committee who monitor shareholder resolutions. Disken-Cahill, interviewed above, is one of the four students on the committee.
MJ’s founding purpose was to end mountaintop removal coal mining, a destructive method of extracting fuel commonly used in Appalachia. To achieve these ends, MJ has taken two courses of action. First, it has confronted the college’s administration, asking them to stop supporting energy companies, and second, it has reached out to people living and organizing on the front lines of the fight against mountain top removal.
“We are lending warm bodies to protests and national campaigns and trying to contribute to the work that other groups are doing,” said Disken-Cahill ‘12.
Greatly inspired by the Yes Men, a group of social activists dedicated to “identity correction” (often impersonating/publicly humiliating leaders of large corporations who use unethical business practices), MJ has broadcasted their mission through a broad range of outlets, including theater. MJ’s theatrical included last semester’s parody of the Night Before Christmas, a short play used to demonstrate that short-term investments can have lasting consequences.
MJ is working to strengthen itself as a resource to the environmental movement, planning educational training trips in West Virginia and other areas especially threatened by mountain top removal. It is also working to recruit new members and excite community involvement in order to curb the efforts of irresponsible energy producers and those who support them.
For further disclosure: Disken-Cahill also writes a column for The Daily Gazette.
Correction: MJ will present the list of companies to the Board of Managers, and not the Committee on Investor Responsibility, as the article originally stated