Last Wednesday marked the anniversary of Divest IC’s first action ever! Exactly one year ago we were in the same exact spot, standing strong outside of the Board of Trustees dinner, signs in hand, smiling faces, ready and eager to converse. While it may seem like our action this year was just a simple repeat of last year, the circumstances and reactions we got this year were significantly different.
After a year of hard work, challenges, learning, and growing, DivestIC returned to meet the Board of Trustees with a completely new mindset. We were not there to harass or intimidate anyone, but were offering support and demonstrating our interest in the decisions made about our school. We were there to share our knowledge about divestment and the racism, classism, sexism, and imperialism that the fossil fuel industry actively perpetuates, and to listen to what others were looking forward to share with us. A one sided conversation is fruitless, and only works to stagnate change rather than fuel it.
By the end of our first action last year, we had only had very short conversations with a few Board of Trustees members. The response we received during our action this year was incredible and unexpected, and demonstrates the immense amount of growth that has been made over the last year. We were ready to speak with everyone inside the dinner, and Board members were just as willing and excited to talk with us. We were able to speak with at least fifteen attendees who walked by and have very genuine and productive conversations about the importance of divestment. We were asked questions, given encouragements, and one alumni even joined us in line and held a banner that read “no rest until we divest!” We were not at all expecting this sort of response, and are overwhelmingly thankful and appreciative of the welcoming and accepting environment created by everyone there.
As students who attend a privileged institution, it is our responsibility to keep our school in check. We represent an integral part of the community that we have created here at IC, and need to be constantly critiquing ourselves and our actions. By keeping our institution and administration in check, we are also empowering and checking ourselves and our own privileges, while also holding ourselves accountable to our responsibility to think about the global effects of our lifestyles. Our friends living in the coal fields of Appalachia, our brothers and sisters in Manchester who are surrounded by an industrial army , our friends fighting desertification in Nigeria, and Indigenous communities in Canada who are constantly facing the attacks of colonization , are all fighting with all they have for their lives and to take back what is theirs. It is our responsibility to stand in solidarity with these folks and make sure their stories are heard so we can support them in any way we possibly can, while making sure not to speak FOR anyone else and to only represent ourselves.
It is our responsibility to engage others in these conversations as well. One goal of divestment is to attack the fossil fuel industry, but it is also to raise the voices of those who are often silenced and to engage people who might not think about these issues in their everyday lives. Institutional divestment is our way of standing in solidarity with frontline communities who are currently facing the immediate effects of climate change and the injustices the fossil fuel industry and other intersecting systems of oppression perpetuate.
While many campaigns are centered around appealing to those in power, Divest IC’s campaign approaches change a bit differently. We recognize that we are not in a place to make any decisions, but we also are not willing to give up our power to the “decision makers.” The power we have as students is unharnassable, and we will not allow decisions in our community to be made by a select few. The effects of climate change will disproportionately affect our generation, so it does not make sense to exclude us from the conversation. We are taking action to encourage inclusion and transparency, and to force the administration and Board of Trustees to be held accountable to their commitment to social and environmental responsibility and to think about how their actions and privileges affect our global community.
This is why we want the decisions made about our endowment to be inclusive and transparent. Students, faculty, administration, and board members need to collaborate with the goal of creating a space of understanding and questioning. The action we held last week outside of the Board of Trustees dinner was the first step towards this collaboration, and I am SO excited to continue working hard, pushing and challenging each other, actively listening to other stories and voices, and creating new and inclusive relationships.
For transparency, inclusivity, solidarity, and the shores of Cayuga Lake.
We are presenting to Thomas Grape, Chair of the Board of Trustees and Chris Lacroix, Chair of the Investment Committee today. I am so excited, but so nervous and anxious. I along with the other presenters Olivia Salindong and Rebecca Billings have been practicing non stop. We spent many hours trying to find the perfect combination of words to say exactly what we want to the members at the meeting. The time is here to actually present. We arrive early to set up and practice one last time so that we are comfortable in the room. Waiting is the worst when you’re about to present. We all try to ease the tension by making jokes and inspecting the pictures in the room. When the board members finally arrive we are relieved. Introductions are done and then we move into our presentation.
The presentation goes very well! Even if we were all nervous no one looked it. At the end of the presentation the board members asked a few clarifying questions and left understanding our goals and demands for this year. The first demand is to send a board member to a conference at Hampshire college in the spring and the second is to be part of a socially responsible investment committee that can work towards divestment. As he left, Chris Lacroix said he was happy to see how passionate we are about divestment. This made us so excited, because we are passionate about this issue, which is why we were there to present. This comment combined with the positive response from the Board members on their way into to dinner has definitely given us a more positive attitude about the coming year. At the end of the meeting we were told that they would inform the other Board members about our presentation, discuss it, and then get back to us, which brings us to today.