As is often the case, the Board of Trustees meeting, and the subsequent Student Forum, was the springboard for a number of student protests this weekend.
On Friday, Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m. the Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Group organized a protest in an attempt to force the Board of Trustees to host an informal vote on fossil fuel divestment. Approximately 100 students participated.
Students blockaded the exit outside of the board meeting, creating two paths: “Yes” and “No” forcing trustees to pick a path. One trustee walked through the “Yes” path, while the remainder chose the latter.
This protest was a result of previous work done between the student-led Committee for Investor Responsibility and the Fossil Fuel Divestment group last year. The latter proposed coal divestment, and while all were in agreement in integrating ethical concerns in investments, a formal vote was never made on coal divestment.
In addition, last year students in the Fossil Fuel Divestment group joined forces with Students for Justice in Palestine and Wesleyan Students for Ending Mass Incarceration, holding a sit-in outside University President Michael Roth’s office. This was not only also in an attempt to call for divestment from fossil fuels, but also for the the occupation of Palestine, and the Prison Industrial Complex. This action ended when Roth committed to stop investments in private prisons.
“We are fighting for fossil fuel divestment in order to fight climate change in a manner that assures a just transition to a new economy that is not reliant on the fossil fuel industry,” Olivia Won ’18 said. “This University needs to lead the way to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry for a just and sustainable future.”
With no intention of slowing down, more students filed into the Memorial Chapel on Saturday, Feb. 27 during “The Future of Wesleyan: An Open Student Forum with the Board of Trustees.” Six trustees were in attendance: Chairman of the Board Joshua Boger ’73, Shonni Silverberg ’76, Irma González ’78, Al Young ’88, Saeyun Lee ’93, and James M. Citrin, all of whom were responsible for answering questions that were previously sent in from students.
Approximately five minutes into the forum, roughly 30 student protesters walked into the chapel, holding signs in their hands. These signs represented the interests of various student groups and stated phrases such as, “Injustice ≠ Investment,” “Mandatory Social Justice Training,” “Talk is Cheap, Show us the Receipts,” “Abortion Services @ Davison,” “Tuition is Rising, But Is Aid?,” “Faculty of Color ≠ Disposable,” “Support Asian American Studies.”
Without directly acknowledging to the protesters in the room, Boger alluded to the role of the Board of Trustees at the University.
“We don’t run the University,” Boger said. “That’s the President’s job, and the administration’s job.” He added, however, that the Board is ultimately responsible for “mission and values” of the University.
Citrin addressed the protestors in the room, speaking out to the various students.
“I want to acknowledge and thank the students who are standing in the aisle very powerfully, very respectfully,” he said.
Protesters remained standing in the audience with their respective signs while the forum continued to go as planned. For the remainder of the meeting, topics discussed included Title IX, Is This Why, the Multicultural Center, investment practices, and whether or not the University is considered “too politically correct.”
“We want Wesleyan students to feel empowered to speak their mind while they’re here and once they leave it,” Silverberg said.
This article will be updated with additional information as the story develops.