A Recap of Actions During the Biannual Board of Trustees Meeting

Photo by Sabrina Knight/The Ithacan

Photo by Sabrina Knight/The Ithacan

Jessie Braverman:

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.

Rebecca Newman:

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.

An Open Letter to the Ithaca College Board of Trustees

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.

Sincerely,

DivestIC

Agency & Urgency

Kaela Bamberger:

I want to write about two things. Agency and urgency.

Within agency there is ability, and accountability.

The beauty of the divestment movement is that within it, we all have agency. This is not saving children in a foreign country we’ve never seen, or even joining the struggle to save rainforests we’ve never been to.

The Ithaca College divestment campaign is made up of all of us that study at or graduated from, worked at or are associated with this institution. When I say all of us I mean those who are spearheading, participating, and are informed about this movement, and those who have never heard the word, and will never read this piece of writing.

This movement is made up of those who are meeting their agency, getting to know their agency, getting in jealous fights with their agency, eventually falling in love with their agency. This movement is also made up of those complicit. Those who will pass by their agency with maybe a nod on the quad, a pretty girl in the stairs up to your class in Friends.

Divestment at Ithaca College embraces all those who have ability. But it also creates a divide between those who have ability and those who have accountability. We all have agency, but not all of us are agents.

To accept accountability is not an easy thing. To acknowledge your simple presence at this institution makes you inherit the consequences of decisions you did not make seems unjust. To acknowledge your existence in this country is an inheritance of issues you did not cause, that you might not know about, this realization could be catastrophic for you.

But who else? The agency is ours. And urgency introduces us to our agency.

I won’t preach about how climate change is the most important issue we can care about, because what is most important is a individual belief. But this campaign is poignant and immediate, I’d go so far to say that asking Ithaca College to divest from fossil fuels is a right we have as students here. As people associated with and representing this institution, they are accountable to us to let us know where they are investing and even have a say in where.

The urgency is tangible. The agency is ours.