Mount Holyoke’s Convenient Conviction – A History of Divestment Decisions

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[image: Mount Holyoke students holding signs at a protest calling for divestment from South African apartheid in 1985. Signs read: “We want no part of profits from South Africa! Our community votes No! MHC Divest Now!” and “MHC oppose apartheid”]

This Thursday, February 23, 2017, the Board of Trustees will be meeting for the second time this academic year. The Mount Holyoke Climate Justice Coalition requested to know whether the Board would be discussing fossil fuel divestment, but we were told that the Board prefers not to inform students of what will be discussed at the meeting beforehand. This lack of transparency is nothing new to our campaign or the student body at large.

In 1985, the Mount Holyoke College Board of Trustees voted to divest Mount Holyoke’s endowment from South African stock in order to protest apartheid. The Board of Trustees made their decision after years of relentless organizing by students, including former President Lynn Pasquerella, class of 1980. By deciding to divest, the Board of Trustees agreed with students that investments are political acts with real consequences. It set an influential precedent by publicly acknowledging the ethics bound in our endowment. The act of divesting intrinsically politicized the College’s endowment and its investments.

On April 6, 2015, five members of the Climate Justice Coalition (CJC) – Daphne Chang ‘16, Kayla Smith ‘16, Julia Worcester ‘17, Raven Geiger ‘17, and Shannon Paton ‘18 – met with President Pasquerella, members of the Investment Committee, and representatives from Cambridge Associates, an external group that manages the College’s endowment. The purpose of this meeting was to learn more about the significance of the endowment and the College’s investments in relation to the financial health of the institution.

At this meeting, members of the Investment Committee – including Committee Chair Elizabeth A. Palmer ‘76 – told us that Mount Holyoke College reinvested our endowment in South African apartheid in 1991. We were told that on September 16, 1991 the Investment Committee sent a memo to the Board and Finance Committee outlining the financial damage that divestment from apartheid had done to the College’s endowment. According to the College’s investors who compared Mount Holyoke’s endowment with a hypothetical portfolio including stocks in South Africa, the endowment reportedly lost $5.4 million in “opportunity cost” throughout the period of divestment. To our knowledge, the Board made the choice to reinvest without consulting or informing the many factions of the Mount Holyoke community who fought for divestment in the first place. Ultimately, the decision occurred after a period of six years – after the student activists who fought for divestment graduated. As of 1991, the violently racist South African apartheid regime was still in power, so a reinvestment decision reflects a support of these racist beliefs by the Board of Trustees.*

In their presentation at our meeting, the members of the Investment Committee referenced reinvestment in apartheid in order to demonstrate to us the financial risks of divestment in general and in regards to current discussions on fossil fuel divestment. According to Kayla Smith ‘16, who was in attendance, “not only was it revealed that Mount Holyoke’s endowment was reinvested in the apartheid regime after their much-celebrated divestment, but that the Board members spoke as though they regretted divesting in the first place by citing the amount of money lost.”

The presenter did not seem to understand that reinvestment, if it did in fact occur, was not simply a financial decision – it was also a political and moral one.

“Now that the issue of divestment has been raised, there is no choice that can be made that is not political. To divest means that the College will make a political decision to oppose publicly the economic decisions it regards as destructive. To not divest means that the College will make a political decision that economic returns are more important that opposing those destructive activities… The question for the College is which decision is most consistent with its mission and values,” to quote Professor of International Politics, Emeritus Vinnie Ferraro in a statement he wrote exploring the parallels between Mount Holyoke’s apartheid and fossil fuel divestment campaigns.

CJC members have since attempted to confirm whether Mount Holyoke College actually reinvested its endowment in companies supporting South African apartheid. Unfortunately, our members have been unable to access the Board’s official meeting records that would confirm what we were told during the April 2015 meeting. The Board of Trustees has an obligation to all students to come forward with clarification and an explanation.

The entire Mount Holyoke community was reminded of the Board’s lack of direct transparency last March 7th, 2016, when we were notified of a $2,560 tuition increase through only two sentences buried in the sixteenth line of a fifty-nine line, eleven paragraph email. As long as the Board continues to prevent the students, faculty, and alumnae of the College from accessing financial decisions in a timely and accessible manner, there will not be sufficient accountability, transparency, and assurance that the Board won’t make unethical financial choices in the future.

“Fiduciary responsibility does not preclude ethical choices.” Professor Ferraro shares our sentiment in this statement. The moral implications of apartheid reinvestment are unconscionable. Choosing to remain invested in the industry that is primarily responsible for potentially catastrophic climate change—which disproportionately impacts women, children, and minorities—aligns ourselves with fossil fuels and is reprehensible. Mount Holyoke needs to refrain from repeating its collapse of conviction by acknowledging the global impact of our investments and realigning them to fit the College’s mission.

Regardless of the Investment Committee’s prioritization of profit over morals, our investments remain political. The flows of capital overlay and constitute violent systems of power. Now is the time for Mount Holyoke College to be the “changemakers” we claim to be, to make another moral decision, and to proudly stand on the right side of history without wavering. In the case of climate change, the consequences are dire, complex, and difficult to overcome. When the Board of Trustees votes to divest from fossil fuels, our community must keep the College accountable to ensure that reinvestment does not reoccur.

 

*The original published version of this article did not include explicit commentary on the violently racist practices of the apartheid regime. We have edited the piece to more accurately reflect our moral stance. For more information on South African apartheid, visit: x and x (warning: potentially graphic and disturbing descriptions and images of anti-black violence).

Post-Election Statement – Climate Justice Coalition

Fuck Donald Trump.

As individuals and as an org, the Climate Justice Coalition is frightened on behalf of our lives, the lives of people we love, and for our work for climate justice. This is not business as usual, and we should never let it become normal. Everything Trump stands for ultimately endangers all of us.

We stand in solidarity with those most marginalized and endangered by a Trump presidency –  undocumented immigrants, people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, Muslims and people of other marginalized faith groups, disabled people, mentally ill people, low-income people, and women. Trump’s rhetoric is unacceptable, and has legitimized a spree of hate crimes in the last two weeks. The hate he draws on existed in America long before this campaign, and dates back to the very founding of this country upon slavery and the genocide of Native peoples.

We also stand with the environment. Throughout Trump’s presidential campaign, he made it very clear that he will destroy everything that climate justice activists and environmentalists have worked hard to accomplish in the last 20 years. He has said he intends to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Obama’s Clean Power Plan, and most recently has appointed a climate change denier to head the EPA. The EPA and the Clean Power Plan might be flawed, but having them is better than not having anything. He also supports the expansion of coal mining and natural gas fracking in the United States. His policies will expand fossil fuel infrastructure such as the Dakota access pipeline and the KXL pipeline, and move us further away from climate justice.

Despite Trump’s orange appearance, he is not in support of divestment. Trump and his advisors are also working hard to have the United States withdraw from the historic (if flawed) Paris Climate Agreement. The rules of the Agreement make it difficult for countries to withdraw before 2020, but Trump is looking for other ways to avoid these (nonbinding) commitments, such as removing the United States from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or the United Nations itself.

We will continue to fight hard for intersectional climate justice. We call on Mount Holyoke College, as a progressive institution, to do the same.

#divest

Solidarity forever,

The Mount Holyoke Climate Justice Coalition

Take care of yourselves and look after each other! Here is a cute polar bear!

polar-bear-licking-snow

[image description: smol polar bear licking snow]

 

The Climate Justice Coalition Stands With Standing Rock

The Mount Holyoke Climate Justice Coalition stands in solidarity with those fighting for justice at Standing Rock. As an organization that works for intersectional climate justice, this is not an issue that we can ‘choose’ to take a stand on – it is a cause inherent to our mission. What is occurring at Standing Rock is the product of 500 years of colonialism and violence against Native peoples, and represents the valuation of fossil fuels over native lives by the United States Empire.

The construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline is the direct result of increased financial investments in the fossil fuel industry. Although the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure should have been halted in 2010 in order to avoid climate catastrophe, continued investments in the industry allow the burning of fossil fuels to continue. Mount Holyoke College’s continued investments in fossil fuel companies directly supports the industry’s actions regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline and countless other fossil fuel infrastructure projects. The Climate Justice Coalition advocates for fossil fuel divestment in order to denounce the actions of these companies. By stigmatizing the industry through divestment, fossil fuel companies will have less control over the economy and political system, preventing them from exercising their power over marginalized communities.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is proposed to transport 450,000 barrels of ‘light sweet crude oil’ from the Bakken Fields of North Dakota for 1,172 miles to Patoka, Illinois. On its route, the pipeline will cross over the Ogallala Aquifer (one of the largest aquifers in the world), and under the Missouri River (the longest river in the United States). The pipeline is slated to be ready for service by January 1, 2017. Historically, crude oil pipelines are susceptible to explosions, which can sometimes be deadly. The Dakota Access Pipeline was rerouted away from Bismarck, North Dakota, which is a primarily white city. Instead, it now passes directly through sacred Native land.

First and foremost, this is a struggle about Native American liberation, self-determination, sovereignty, and survival. The #NoDAPL fight is a continuation of 500 years of colonial and neocolonial history on Turtle Island. Since European settlers first arrived on this continent, Native peoples have faced campaigns of assimilation, cultural erasure, and genocide. The United States government has continuously violated Treaties and taken land. This is not history; it continues today. The latest example of these human rights violations is the work of Energy Transfer Partners and countless banks and financial institutions funding the Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as law enforcement and politicians in North Dakota to construct a dangerous and destructive infrastructure project that is in violation of Treaty agreements.

We #StandWithStandingRock. We call on the Mount Holyoke community to #StandWithStandingRock. If you would like to know more about #NoDAPL, we recommend reading the articles we have listed below, as well as the official Standing Rock Syllabus. The Standing Rock Camp is preparing for a harsh North Dakota winter and they need donations and supplies. In addition to and beyond that, we need to decolonize every aspect of our lives: our education system, our workplaces, our food, and our energy. This is a fight for all of us. We demand a sustainable future for all of us. We continue to resist the expansion of the fossil fuel economy and we will support the Standing Rock resistance until the Dakota Access Pipeline is terminated.

#NoDAPL #WaterisLife #StandWithStandingRock #Solidarity #StandingRockSiouxTribe


Useful Articles About Standing Rock