MHC Divest launched in November 2012 and quickly gained the support of many students. During the spring of 2013, the group delivered petitions to President Lynn Pasquerella and participated in productive dialogue and educational opportunities on campus. In the spring of 2014, the group formally registered as Mount Holyoke Climate Justice Coalition (CJC). The formal demands for fossil fuel divestment at the college were determined.
In spring 2014, CJC organized a successful student referendum in which, of those who voted, 88% of students voted for Mount Holyoke to divest its endowment from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. Members of CJC attended the Intentionally Designed Endowments Conference in April 2014 with President Pasquerella and presented in a session on engaging in collaborative dialogue on campus.
CJC also met with Vice President of Finance Shannon Gurek and Former President Pasquerella. We then met with the (now former) Chair of the Board of Trustees, Mary Davis, and two other members of the Board, and we were invited to the September meeting of the Investment Committee. Two members of MHC Divest attended this meeting in New York City, and made an impressive presentation to the entire Committee. Following that meeting, the group met with several Trustees in October. Seven members of MHC Divest attended the meeting, as well as Physics Professor Alexi Arango, and a student action occurred outside the meeting to encourage the Trustees to support divestment.
In spring 2016, the Planning & Budget committee formed an ad hoc committee, made up of three faculty members, two staff members, and one student. The group was tasked with reviewing fossil fuel divestment and designing a statement reflecting their opinion. The statement was supportive of divestment in general and did not include a specified timeline during which full divestment would occur. This statement, along with the CJC proposal for divestment, were voted on by faculty after a discussion about the pros and cons of the decision. 92% of the faculty expressed support for divestment from fossil fuels. This victory comes after two years of working with individual faculty members to educate this integral part of the Mount Holyoke community about divestment.
During the 2016-17 academic year, CJC has hosted multiple teach-ins on the basics of college endowments and the individuals that make up the Mount Holyoke Board of Trustees. In spring 2017, CJC presented its formal divestment proposal and the ad hoc committee statement to the Mount Holyoke Senate. 95% of senators supported divestment, with 84% in favor of the CJC statement. Three years after the positive student referendum, this vote reiterated student support for the cause.
In this same semester, CJC also highlighted the history of divestment campaigning at Mount Holyoke, having been informed by the Mount Holyoke Investment Committee that although the college voted to divest from apartheid in 1985, it reinvested in the racist, oppressive regime in 1991. To our knowledge, the Board at the time reinvested without consulting or informing the community about this decision.
In April, 2016, the Board of Trustees continued to not be transparent with the MHC student body and wider community. They held a vote on divestment outside their annual meeting periods and unbeknownst to the community. They voted against fossil fuel divestment and noted that the act would “sacrifice the strength and stability of our endowment” while misrepresenting the actual financial impact of the decision. CJC condemns the Board’s vote as it is not reflective of the Mount Holyoke community values and as it neglects the political, impactful nature of investments.
We have continued to raise community awareness on divestment, the endowment, and Mount Holyoke administration. After more than five years of campaigning, the college has not altered investment policies regarding fossil fuels. Mount Holyoke claims to honor the values of its constituents and, unlike the US Government, committed to upholding the Paris Climate Agreement. These commitments, however, are not taken seriously. The college’s unwavering stance against divestment coupled with slow progress on campus environmental initiatives show that Mount Holyoke is lagging in owning up to its promises.
We have had meetings with administrators, students, faculty, staff, and alumnae. We have collaborated with other student organizations on campus, participated in climate justice, political organizing, and intersectionality trainings (including with the Responsible Endowments Coalition), and gone to events like Forward on Climate, XL Dissent, and the People’s Climate March. We have done research on everything from the morality to the financial implications of divestment. We have presented this information on many platforms, and we have seen no change.
The administration asked the campaign to demonstrate support across the different constituents of the college. After years of being told that our efforts were not sufficient, the Board of Trustees rejected divestment outright without providing a reasonable explanation. It is our duty as a progressive institution of higher education to divest from the fossil fuel industry. By divesting, we will contribute to a powerful shift away from the dirty energy of the past, away from unjust investments, and away from the corporate stranglehold these institutions have over our political process.
We have the power to determine our own future, but only if we take a stand.