By EMILY WILLIAMS ’16
On Oct. 3, Fossil Free Wellesley, a student-led campaign that is calling on the College to withdraw its investments in fossil fuel companies, held a demonstration outside the Lulu Chow Wang Campus Center. Twenty-five students lay on the ground, wearing face masks and holding signs that declared their causes of death, including “climate change” and “asthma.”
“We really wanted to make that link between what the fossil fuel industry does and how it harms us,” Betsy Kinsey ’16, a core organizer of Fossil Free Wellesley, said.
While the demonstrators lay “dead” on the ground, representatives from Fossil Free Wellesley distributed pamphlets explaining how the deaths were related to fossil fuel companies. The pamphlets drew attention to the immediate effects fossil fuels have on the environment and human health.
“It’s not about polar bears; it’s about us and where we are now,” Kinsey said.
Kinsey felt that this project, which was several weeks in the making, was successful in conveying their message.
“I’ve never seen something like that before,” said Sarah Herman ’17, who passed by the demonstration. “I think it’s effective in getting people’s attention.”
In the coming weeks, members of Fossil Free Wellesley will focus on their upcoming meeting with the Board of Trustees on Oct. 23. Not all of the trustees will attend the meeting, but key representatives from the Board will hear Fossil Free Wellesley’s pitch. President Bottomly helped arrange the meeting after speaking with the divestment group last semester.
“[President Bottomly] hasn’t openly said that she supports divestment,” Rosalie Sharp ’16, another core organizer of Fossil Free Wellesley, said. “She supports the discussion.”
At the Board of Trustees meeting, Fossil Free Wellesley will ask the Board to divest in all of the College’s direct shares in fossil fuel companies within the next two years. The group’s proposal allows for the exception of Wellesley’s co-mingled shares, as Fossil Free Wellesley recognizes that those shares are more complex. The plan also includes a review period after the college fully divests. If at the end of this period the Board decided that Wellesley could not continue to function without these shares, the College could re-invest in fossil fuel companies.
Fossil Free Wellesley is organized into three sub-groups: student support, outreach and research. After its meeting with the Board of Trustees, Fossil Free Wellesley will continue to increase student support and outreach. If the divestment group succeeds, the research team will be repurposed to follow up with the Board of Trustees.
“This group will make sure that our message was heard and not just listened to and not dealt with,” Sharp said.
One criticism of the Fossil Free Wellesley campaign is that divesting in fossil fuel companies will not affect the fossil fuel industry, because other organizations will simply buy Wellesley’s shares.
“I just don’t think that a huge company is going to care if Wellesley divests its funds, because there are literally 500 other people lined up to take them,” Julia Foster ’16 said.
However, members of Fossil Free Wellesley hope that by divesting in fossil fuel companies, Wellesley will lead other institutions to drop their investments, sparking a wave of divestment that will have larger ramifications for the fossil fuel industry. Whether or not this occurs, Sharp believes that it is the moral responsibility of the College to drop its investments.
“It comes down to the fact that I’m funding my education through fossil fuel profits, which is wrong,” she said.
Other students are concerned about the financial loss the College would incur if it divested from lucrative industries. For example, divesting could have the potential to raise tuition or decrease funding for academic programs offered at Wellesley.
“I guess it would be a problem [for tuition costs] if the returns we got from the endowment went down,” Genevieve Rogers ’16 said.
A decrease in the endowment may put a strain on the amount of financial aid available, which today supports over half the student body.
“We’ve heard a lot of concern that people have about financial aid being accessible,” Kinsey said. “When it comes down to it, we will not support any kind of divestment plan if it will hinder anyone’s ability to come to Wellesley.”
Kinsey is also skeptical that the College administration would draw from financial aid to make up for the loss of its assets in the fossil fuel industry.
Additionally, Rogers points out that she finds the goal of divestment to be worth campaigning for, despite the possible ramifications to financial aid.
“Our tuition is expensive, but the environment is priceless,” Rogers said.