In the fall of 2014, student activists petitioned the College to begin the process of completely divesting from fossil fuel companies. A working group formed by the Board of Trustees met with students and examined the issue, specifically addressing the question of how divestment would affect the endowment. That spring, President Kim Bottomly responded by saying that “the (Board of Trustees) and I, do not support the idea of using the College’s endowment as a lever for social change … the cost to Wellesley would be high and the economic impact on fossil fuels companies inconsequential.”
However, I argue that continuing to invest in fossil fuel companies also sends a message, though it is one of social stagnation, rather than change. And that message says that Wellesley College is unconcerned with the realities and consequences of the fossil fuel industry. It says that when Wellesley encourages students and departments to become more sustainable, it’s simply a pretense, for when presented with the opportunity to take a bigger step, Wellesley would rather stay in line. There are stickers in our bathrooms, for example, reminding us to turn off running water or switch off the lights — which are obviously good measures — but they are not enough. Their initiative says that Wellesley would rather bolster its financial success and stability with companies and practices that are destroying the environment and altering the world as we know it. It says that at the end of the day, Wellesley is content with gazing inward instead of seeking to help our community and planet.
This semester has seen EnAct and Renew Wellesley make efforts to spark conversation and action regarding sustainability and renewable energy. And their efforts are admirable. However, if Wellesley is to truly make a difference, it must make that political statement President Bottomly and the Board of Trustees were so hesitant to make and divest. I’m not naive; one institution divesting from fossil fuel companies won’t have a huge immediate impact. But Wellesley would not be the only institution. Universities, local governments, churches and more have started divesting. As a result of the tireless work of activists, city councils and companies around the world are beginning to take action. What is keeping Wellesley from doing the same? While the Office of Investments didn’t respond to my email asking for their input, I can imagine the reason is simple: money.
It isn’t as if Wellesley doesn’t understand the threat that climate change poses. Wellesley College isn’t primarily composed of climate change skeptics, so our funding should reflect that. Climate change has recently become a recurring topic in the news with many other organizations and governments taking a more radical stance on the issue. The Costa Rican government, for example, vowed to end the country’s dependence on fossil fuels by 2050. If a country can do it, why is it so difficult for Wellesley College to follow suit?
Five years later it is well past the time for Wellesley to reconsider that decision. Like it or not, Wellesley College is a political institution — how could a college created for and devoted to the education of women not be? Its very essence is the fabric of social change. Perhaps a new administration can finally set Wellesley down the right path.