Weekly there are op-eds about divestment in the Record (“Vote yes to divest,” Feb. 25, 2015; “We know who is to blame,” Feb. 11, 2015; “A case for divestment,” Jan. 21, 2015). This regularity means that if you flip or scroll to the Opinions pages, you are probably well-acquainted with the topic of divestment. Often these articles outline the moral responsibility that a prestigious institution of higher education has and why divestment is the avenue we should take. So as not to oversimplify the issue of divestment, I refer you to those other well-written op-eds conveniently catalogued on the Record website in order to better understand why we need to divest. Instead, read on for how divestment is a part of creating a more just democracy on our campus.
There are things about the College’s operations that we as students take for granted. These are integral parts of making a community of thousands of people function, and we don’t expect to have a say in them. In the midst of this snow-pocalyptic winter, hundreds of people make it so that we can carry out our duties as students safely every single day. By applying to any college and accepting our position in our classes, we fill the role of students. It is expected that we attend class, participate fully by completing assignments and actively engage with our courses. It is also our role to take part in creating the community in which we live and learn. While much of the College’s functioning occurs without student input, there are certain decisions that we as students should have a role in dictating. In particular, when the decisions made by the administration conflict with its core values, students must voice their opposition and push the institution to change.
While many of us participate in important ways in the College community, much of what goes on is not on our radar of “things we should have a say in.” How the College recruits students or reaches out to secondary schools is not something we feel we have a say in as temporary residents of Williamstown. But if the College were to have discriminatory recruiting practices, students would have an obligation to work to correct that. Likewise, if the College were mistreating its employees, students would rightly have the opportunity to speak up and say something about it to alter the College’s practices. Though they are not the direct agents of change in many of these scenarios, students are responsible for ensuring that the institution that they represent also represents them.
As part of the College community, it is our place to make it known when the College’s practices do not align with our values. It is our responsibility to do something about it. When the College’s endowment is invested in an industry that is valued on the fossil fuels left in their reserves, which, if burned, will cause catastrophic climate change, then this contradicts students’ desire for a livable planet for future generations. Profiting by harming or destroying the lives and possessions of others is not something that many people like to admit they do, and yet there are many things that we do every day that allow us to profit through such destruction. In many of these situations, we as consumers do not have much of a choice. It is almost inevitable that we use many products manufactured under unjust labor conditions. But right now, we as the Williams community have a chance to join a unified international movement against the private interests of fossil fuel companies so that the decisions we have are not just between coal and oil. Divesting from fossil fuels is a way to show that it is important to account for the externalities of our decisions and take back control of the economic and political system from fossil fuel companies.
Our voices unified to show that 71 percent of students support divesting from the 200 fossil fuel companies with the most carbon left in their reserves. This is powerful. This, along with the wide support from our faculty, evidenced in the op-ed with 249 signatories (“Call for divestment,” Feb. 25, 2015) and strong voices from our alumni community, should inform the College’s actions moving forward. Though the ultimate decision whether we will divest does not lie in the hands of students, the administration and trustees who do have the power to decide now know that divestment aligns with the wishes of the rest of the College community.
Caroline Bruno ’15 is an English major and environmental studies concentrator from Old Saybrook, Conn. She lives in Morgan.