On Feb. 21, a group of students met at the University Organizing Center (UOC) to initiate a fossil fuel divestment campaign at the University. Divestment is the reduction of an asset for financial, ethical, or political reasons; it is essentially the opposite of an investment.
“The general goal of divestment is to get administrators to stop putting their investments in, in our case, fossil fuels and coal extraction projects,” said Angus McLean ’16.
Rachel Lindy ’15 elaborated on the campaign’s goals.
“[We want to encourage the University to] not only [not] invest in future ones, but also eliminate their current investments in those top 200 fossil fuel companies,” Lindy said.
Lindy and McLean led the meeting, during which students discussed their motives for the movement and their goals for the current semester.
Although not much is decided for the near future, they are using these preliminary meetings to gather student support. Websites such as 350.org and divestment campaigns on other campuses have been instrumental in the group’s development so far.
“Right now, 256 other divestment campaigns in the country have been recorded,” Lindy said. “So we’ve been working with other groups and utilizing Internet resources, and they describe the process [of campaigning for divestment]; we’ll obviously modify it for our own purposes once we get going.”
The organizers will begin the process by forming a group, formalizing goals, and publicizing around campus to gain student support. They hope to eventually host larger events such as a speaker series, a film series, or art installations.
An important first step is to familiarize members of the University community with divestment.
“We want to emphasize that divestment is good for the University and not bad for the University; that’s a really important point to make,” Lindy said.
Currently, the public can view details on five percent of the total endowment investments from the partial list of direct holdings, found on the Wesleyan Student Assembly website. Direct holdings make up about 10 percent of all investments, and the remaining 90 percent are in commingled funds, which are managed by a third party. Commingled funds consist of assets from several accounts that are blended together and include hedge funds and real estate.
The list of five percent of the total endowment investments to which students have access indicates that the University has invested in Occidental, Walter, and Tech, large fossil fuel-producing and mining corporations. The remaining 95 percent of the investments are not publicized.
“Since they’re not telling us what they’re invested in, we can only assume the worst, and maybe if we do that and guilt them into making us think that they’ve invested in all these bad companies, then they’ll have to come clean and show us that it’s not that bad—or if it is, they will have to make changes,” McLean said.
But the lack of total transparency does not necessarily pose a roadblock for the campaign.
“Even through that five percent, it’s not looking very good,” Lindy said. “We don’t need complete transparency to go through with this divestment campaign.”
McLean and Lindy will be working with the Green Fund and the Investment Responsibility Committee.
“I support President Roth’s many environmental accomplishments: College of the Environment establishment, Cogeneration installation, and his signed commitment to pursue a zero-carbon campus,” wrote Green Fund member Brent Packer ’15 in an email to The Argus. “Fossil fuel divestment and endowment transparency is a natural next step.”
Packer also recognized the importance of balance in being ecologically responsible and still running an economically functional university.
“Our organization plans to work together with the administration to better advance Wesleyan’s ecologically responsible mission while retaining the necessary financial returns for an effective University,” Packer wrote.
This is not the first divestment campaign initiated by University students. In 2007, a divestment campaign against arms contractors was initiated on campus by Students for Ending the War in Iraq. A part of their movement involved putting boots in front of Olin to represent all the deaths that the companies had caused. Since then, there have been no divestment campaigns on campus.
“We call ourselves progressive, right?” Lindy said. “We call ourselves activists. I don’t even know.”