This week there are banners hanging around campus to mark the year that has passed since the Wellesley Board of Trustees rejected fossil fuel divestment. In the Board’s rejection of divestment, they made three commitments to act on climate change: create a Green Revolving Fund, incorporate sustainable goals into Wellesley’s Campus Renewal and form the Socially Responsible Investing Task Force. The banners call attention to the lack of progress made by the Wellesley Administration in the past year and question the validity of the Board’s reasons for denying the campaign’s request.
Fossil Free Wellesley’s divestment campaign is based on the idea that it is morally impermissible to profit on oppressive industries and that it is fundamentally flawed to fund students’ education through investing in companies that depend on endangering their futures. Fossil Free’s request was contingent upon financial aid remaining untouched, shown to be possible by ethical investing studies. In the official college announcement on the divestment decision, sent on March 7, 2014, President Bottomly wrote that “The Board, and I, do not support the idea of using the College’s endowment as a lever for social change.” The first banner, hung Monday above the Jewett steps, questions the validity of this reason. The Board of Trustees is ignoring the fact that money is being politicized wherever it is being spent. By not allowing it to be used as a lever for social change, the board is using it to perpetuate an oppressive status quo.
The second banner displays a message question- ing what this rejection and the rejection of the re- quests of many other student campaigns says about how Wellesley sees student organizing. It is frustrating that our motto is “Women who will” but the administration seems to not value our voices.
“It feels like they approve of activism, but only abstractly, like Wellesley is just practice for life af- ter graduation,” Rosalie Sharp ’16 said. Sharp’s comment is consistent with our experience with the Board. They were quick to say they admired our passion and critical thinking, but at the end of the day, did not seriously consider our input.
In their promises to prioritize sustainability in future campus plans, they outlined the importance of the proposal currently being worked on by the Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability to reduce future energy use, expand investments in renewables, among other sustainable goals. In the divestment rejection letter, President Bottomly stated that the committee is studying commitments made by other schools and developing a “new, likely more stringent, proposal for Wellesley.” The committee is currently writing its comprehensive proposal to the Board, set to be finalized and submitted by next fall, one component of which is setting greenhouse gas emissions goals. Nearly 700 other universities have already pledged to be carbon neutral, that means having a carbon footprint of zero. We want to see the Board follow through on its word to set comparable, if not higher, goals than other schools; this would mean committing to carbon neutrality at a minimum, and net negative carbon emissions if we are to be leaders. To commit to less than these targets would be a statement that Wellesley’s administration is not true to its word. It is unreasonable for students to organize an additional campaign to ensure that the administration is following through on its promises that came out of a prior campaign. We should be able to trust them to do what they explicitly say they will. Above all, to commit to lower goals would be a statement that Wellesley supports the destruction and oppression connected to the climate crisis.
Another commitment the Board made in response to divestment was to create TheSocially Responsible Investing Task Force. The task force has come together this year to write the instructions for how the administration should handle future requests from students, alumnae and faculty that the College alter its investments to be more ethical, be it tobacco divestment, prison divestment, among other forms of divestment or targeted investment. One of the student representatives on the committee, Nikita Saladi ’16, noted that the committee members presume that the college’s managers are not willing to follow constraints on in- vestment strategy, so creating a set of guidelines effectively silences any requests, as managers have not yet agreed to seriously consider strategies subject to constituent-mandated constraints. Saladi, also a Fossil Free organizer, now finds herself in a committee whose goal, she feels, is to establish a system to more efficiently deny requests for ethical investing. Mean- while, the school can still promote this task force as an example of its commitment to ethical investing and collaboration with valuable voices of the community. The group includes students, faculty and ad- ministration, but having various people at the table does not mean each person’s voice is valued equally.
Beth DeSombre, environmental studies professor and committee member, said, “I’d personally like this newly-constituted committee to be forward-thinking (considering on its own what important social considerations should guide our investments) rather than just reacting to issues brought forward to it; I’m hopeful that this approach might be possible in the process we create.” In short, the promises of the Board and the aspirations of the committee members are far from what is being accomplished. The administration can tie up valuable time of politically engaged students in committees and thereby prevent real action on the students’ part. One important counterpoint to this argument is the President’s Committee on Gender at Wellesley; a committee that was effective in making real change to Wellesley’s gender policy to be more inclusive.
The purpose of the banners is to bring renewed thought on campus to political organizing more broadly, both past and present, and call attention to the problematic patterns that exist in how Wellesley responds to campus activism. This pattern can be seen in how WAAM-SLAM2 has been received by the administration, the group calling for trans- formative justice through greater support for ethnic studies at Wellesley. In response to these demands, outlined in the Freedom Budget proposal, Wellesley formed a committee about race at Wellesley. It’s important that these discussions are happening, and it is just as important that these discussions bring action.
We understand that the discussion of various committees, task forces and working groups in this article is confusing. This confusion is a reflection of the lack of transparency and effective communication occurring. Are these various forums effectively communicating student concerns to the people who need to hear them? Or are they biding time and tying up resources in the discussion phase, pushing off real action? We hope that these banners work to hold Wellesley account- able to its promises. We hope the banners encourage people—students, faculty, and administration alike— to think critically about the complacency that Wellesley is inadvertently supporting by being dismissive.
Photo Courtesy of Amelia McClure ’16 and Betsy Kinsey ’15