Mount Holyoke College students call for fossil fuel divestment

  • Mount Holyoke College students participate in a rally Thursday to pressure the college to divest from the fossil fuel industry.  STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/13/2020 11:16:25 PM
Modified: 2/13/2020 11:16:14 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — Hundreds of students crowded Blanchard Hall on Thursday afternoon to demand that the Mount Holyoke College board of trustees divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry.

“We need a livable and sustainable future, and if we’re going to have a chance at that, it is imperative that we divest from fossil fuels, and that we keep it all in the ground,” said sophomore Emma Sullivan, a member of the Sunrise Movement.

Mount Holyoke has as much as 6% of its endowment indirectly invested in the fossil fuel industry, according to the college’s website. The college does not hold any direct investment in fossil fuel companies, but 1%, or $7 million of the college’s endowment, is invested in commingled funds of publicly traded fossil fuel companies. The college also draws less than 5% of its endowment from fossil fuel holdings in private partnerships. As of 2018, the college had an endowment of $777.7 million.

Gathered in Blanchard Hall after walking out of their classes, students drew attention to the impact of the fossil fuel industry on the environment and “the disproportionate effects of climate change and oil-based initiatives on indigenous peoples in the United States and around the world,” said senior Dannye Carpenter.

“We know that the fossil fuel industry inflicts direct and indirect violence against the most vulnerable communities across the globe,” added senior Erica DiScala, a member of the college’s Climate Justice Coalition. “By investing in fossil fuels, Mount Holyoke College endorses such violence, both symbolically and materially.

“Beyond that, they’re not just endorsing the violence — they’re profiting from it,” DiScala continued. “We, as students of the college, will not stand for this.”

Mount Holyoke did not make a board member available on Thursday, but a college spokeswoman said in a statement that “the Board of Trustees has been seeking out substantial investments in clean energy technologies and in companies that present viable alternatives to fossil fuels.

“Additionally, the investment managers are evaluating how climate change impacts our investments and how the support of environmental factors affect our portfolios,” the statement read.

Students held a similar protest in 2017, but the college’s trustees announced ahead of the rally that they had voted unanimously to not divest from fossil fuels, stating that while “climate change is real and is a defining issue of our era,” the college must “preserve and protect our endowment.”

Sullivan said that it is past time that the board revisits this issue.

“Our lives, our Earth can’t wait another day, another month, another anything, let alone another three years, for inaction,” Sullivan said to the crowd.

Although the college’s board of trustees has not voted on the issue since 2017, student activity has not been dormant during this time, DiScala said.

“We gathered the momentum that got us here over the last three years, so this isn’t an isolated incident,” DiScala told the Gazette. “It’s a conglomeration of everything that’s happened.”

The college’s Climate Justice Coalition has not received any recent responses from the board of trustees, according to DiScala.

The rally was held to coincide with the international initiative Global Divestment Day and came on the heels of last October’s decision by the Smith College board of trustees to divest 100% of the college’s fossil fuel investments within 15 years, following years of student demands.

Sophomore Tasha Elizarde called on the college to join this wave, telling the crowd, “If we divest here, we are one step forward to making sure that we divest everywhere.”

Divesting from publicly traded fossil fuel companies would require Mount Holyoke College to sell more than one-third of its endowment, according to the college, and the additional divestment from private partnerships would require the college to sell up to one-half of the college’s endowment.

Sullivan protested this claim at the rally, stating that the college’s investment company offers a green portfolio option that would allow the college to reinvest its endowment into green and sustainable energy sources.

Organizers encouraged the crowd of students to attend a Feb. 27 trustees meeting to urge the board to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

“We will not stop until Mount Holyoke is no longer invested in fossil fuels,” Sullivan said at the close of the rally.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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