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.
Swarthmore Mountain Justice (MJ) made the front page of The New York Times’ website as the group’s campaign to to divest Swarthmore’s endowment from fossil fuels continues to gather momentum.
“I definitely think we’re part of a huge movement,” said Ali Roseberry-Polier ‘14, a member of MJ, in a late-night Skype conversation.
“We’re just starting to see the sort of mass action that we know is going to first win divestment campaigns and then force strong action for climate justice,” said MJ member Will Lawrence ‘13, also present in the Skype interview. “This needs to get enormous, so much bigger than where it is now. So I think we’re just at the beginning of it. It is really taking off right now.”
The reporter who wrote the story covers environmental issues for the Times and was put in touch with MJ by the Responsible Endowments Coalition, a non-profit that was co-founded by Morgan Simon ’04.
The article outlines the mission of MJ and the efforts of 350.org, a non-profit led by national environmental advocate Bill McKibben that urges institutions to divest from the fossil fuel industry.
“We hope that that can be the beginning of a process that will lead to divestment for Swarthmore,” Lawrence said. “The administration has expressed to us that they share our concerns about environmental injustice.”
Fueled by the success of countries and colleges that divested from apartheid in South Africa, MJ and other groups are hoping to use the same strategy to make a meaningful change in the way students view their environment.
“I think that the Administration genuinely is concerned about the crisis that we’re facing right now,” Roseberry-Polier said. “I think that it’s hard not to be.”
MJ is well aware, however, that the Administration doesn’t yet share their belief that divestment is the proper means to achieve climate justice.
In the Times article, Treasurer and Vice President for Finance Suzanne Welsh is quoted as saying “To use the endowment in support of [social] missions is not appropriate. It’s not what our donors have given money for.” This response is echoed by numerous colleges across the US, especially those with multi-billion-dollar endowments, according to the article.
MJ is unwavering in its faith that the Swarthmore administration may someday join their side.
“The message that this community as a whole needs to communicate to them is, if they want to do something, divestment is where the movement is right now,” Lawrence said.
In that vein, MJ is staging a what Lawrence calls a “mini-rally” in front of Parrish at 12:30 on Friday, setting up a line of dominoes as a visual representation of the political momentum behind the divestment movement.
Also Friday is The Board of Managers Luncheon. Representatives of MJ will be meeting with members of the Board to begin what Lawrence hopes will be the beginning of a serious conversation about divesting.
Yesterday, Middlebury College announced an exploratory process on the issue of divestment, according to Roseberry-Polier. Unity College in Maine and Hampshire College in Massachusetts have already committed to divest, and a Harvard University student government referendum has also supported divestment.
“Bryn Mawr does have a campaign right now, and we’ve been working with them a fair amount,” Roseberry-Polier said. “Swarthmore’s really in a position to be a leader on this. A few months ago there were six schools doing divestment. Two years ago we were the only school with a divestment campaign. And now there are well over a hundred.”
Featured image courtesy of The New York Times and Swarthmore Mountain Justice