Dear Ithaca College Board of Trustees:
We understand that you have an extremely busy meeting schedule for the next three days, as you only meet twice every year. However, we are disappointed that we as a group were not allowed onto the agenda in order to speak to you all directly. We were granted a twenty minute meeting with Thomas Grape and Chris LaCroix, which we certainly see as accommodating, but also as an effort to keep us from your line of sight.
We are DivestIC: a coalition made up mostly of IC students, but also of alumni, parents, faculty, professors, parents, and members of the larger Ithaca community. We are a coalition working towards the divestment of our school’s endowment, worth over $200 million, from the fossil fuel industry. We understand that this is not a simple demand, and we recognize that there needs to be an open and constructive dialogue between students and board members in order to realistically work towards the goal of complete divestment. Through the work we have done with our campaign in the last year, we have not been able to achieve anything beyond a semblance of open discourse, and we hope that you will help us change that.
You may remember us from last October, when we stood respectfully outside your opening dinner in Emerson Suites with signs asking you to help us and encouraging you to take advantage of the opportunity to work with students towards instituting a positive change for our college. Since then, we have had meetings with Chairman of the Board Thomas Grape, President Tom Rochon, General Counsel and Secretary to the Board Nancy Pringle, former Vice President of Finance and Administration Carl Sgreeci, former Provost Peter Bardaglio, and many more administrators, faculty, and other members of Ithaca College’s community. Many of these meetings have felt constrained, obligatory, and intentionally suppressant. Not that we were literally kept from speaking (in all cases), but that we did not feel the capacity for honest, unrestricted conversation was considered by all parties.
We would like, for a moment, for you to consider where we are coming from with our demands. We would like you to consider the fact that scientists are now more confident than ever, more than 95% certain, that humans are the principal cause of climate change, mainly through our burning of fossil fuels. We would like you to understand that the effects of climate change are currently increasing in intensity and frequency, seen in cases of flooding, natural disasters, rising sea levels, changes in temperature, melting ice caps, forest fires, and increasing ocean acidity. But we also want you to see the other side of fossil-fueled climate change: the destruction of indigenous lands, environmental racism, and other horrifying abuses that have been happening and are happening at this exact moment, with credit due directly to the corporations that we as an institution are supporting with our endowment money.
Board of Trustees, we want you to consider that we, as students in our twenties, are going to disproportionately bear the global effects of these obscenities. We are terrified for the future of our planet, our families, our ecosystems, and ourselves. At this moment, we have chosen to spend our time in school, at Ithaca College, taking classes and creating communities of comfort and support and solidarity, so that we can learn and grow and be ready to take on whatever it is that our future holds. Ithaca College has helped to shaped us in the past one, two, or three years, into the people we are at this moment. Our school, your school, a place of “higher education” which preaches “sustainability,” has helped us realize the significance of fighting for what we see as important. Our classes and community members have helped us realize that if we don’t have a future to look forward to, we don’t have a present worth putting our hearts into.
And so we are here, asking you to consider our places as students who can no longer ignore the atrocities of the present and the uncertainties of the future, as students of Ithaca College who need your help to work towards a better future for both our institution and our planet.
Six U.S. colleges have already committed to divestment. The City of Ithaca has divested, and the Park Foundation has committed to invest their money in only Socially Responsible Investments (SRI). Our nation’s market is shifting away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner energy, as studies from many including HSBC and Citibank have shown. Fossil fuel divestment is an opportunity for Ithaca College to stand up to its own standards of excellence in sustainability and student support, to take a leadership position as one of the first ten colleges in the country to commit to divestment, and to avoid the future investment risks of a nonrenewable, deteriorating industry.
We are not asking you to come stand with us and hold a sign, or even to commit immediately to divestment. We are asking you to help us towards our goal of forming a committee of students, faculty, and board members by the end of this school year to officially work towards fossil fuel divestment. We recognize that we don’t have all the answers, and that we don’t know the extent of what the divestment process will look like. We understand that there are fiduciary responsibilities and financial complications, but that is why we all need to work together towards this solution.
In our meeting with Mr. Grape and Mr. Lacroix on Thursday, we will ask that they commit to having a confirmed list of Board members that will be on the Socially Responsible Investing Committee by the date of the February Board meeting. We will do our part as well, and have a confirmed list of students and faculty by that time. If you would like to be a part of the committee, if you would like to come forward and speak in support of our campaign, or if you have any other response to this open letter that you would like to share, we invite you to follow this link to a very short survey that will allow you to provide your reactions and initial thoughts.
Thank you for allowing our voices to be heard by reading this letter, and thank you for all of the work that you do in keeping Ithaca College the incredible place that it is. We greatly look forward to moving towards fossil fuel divestment together.