On February 26, 2018, in a statement to the student body, the Clark University Board of Trustees announced its decision to not divest the University’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry. It was a disappointing response to a years-long effort by student organization Divest Clark to advocate change through constructive protest, armed with a thoroughly researched proposal for divestment. The Board’s rejection of the proposal, however, is being refused by the students with their new campaign, #RejectionDenied.
Divest Clark is calling on students to hold the Board accountable for its decision. The student organization has publicly denounced the Board’s decision through social media and a banner drop in the school’s Academic Commons on Wednesday, February 28. On Thursday March 15, Divest Clark will hold a public meeting to discuss how the Clark community will tell the Board: #RejectionDenied.
Divest Clark also demands that the Board be held accountable for procedural injustice. The students who submitted the proposal, student representatives from the Community Affairs and Responsibility committee (the preparative subcommittee under the Board that dealt most directly with the proposal), and liaisons from Student Council were not invited to the meeting which took place in New York City, almost 200 miles away from Clark’s campus.
In their statement, the Board of Trustees reaffirmed the University’s commitment to “advocate for robust efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions” and applauded Divest Clark’s “rigorous, evidence-based analysis and discussion” regarding Clark’s fossil fuel investments. That being said, the Board concluded that they will not approve divestment because the proposal does not “meet the criteria for divestment … as being ‘immoral under broadly shared concepts of human rights and human dignity’.”
Clark students, however, beg to differ. “Our consumption of fossil fuels enables an unsustainable way of life that changes earth’s climate in such a way that threatens our very own future,” says Heather Riesenberg, a junior at Clark University. “We’re not killing our planet—she will be fine. We’re killing a chance to guarantee our own survival. I consider that immoral.” Addressing human rights and human dignity, Ariana Nicholson, a sophomore at Clark University, calls the Board’s statement “a slap in the face of the decades of organizing that people of color, youth, women, and frontline communities have been engaging in to protect our communities and decarbonize our world.”
Organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Oxfam have emphasized what researchers have proven: climate change exacerbates the struggles of marginalized communities, be they low-income people of color in the United States, or the residents of Kiribati whose country is literally sinking as a result of a phenomenon in which they play little part. Climate change causes the most suffering to the poorest countries and the poorest Americans, despite the fact that they contribute the least amount of carbon dioxide emissions and consume the least fossil fuels. According to the World Bank, if no rapid and drastic climate-informed decisions are made, more than 100 million people will be pushed into poverty by 2030.
It is clear that the students believe those with the power to effect change have a moral duty to do so. As Shosh Weiner, a Clark first-year, says, “Nothing else matters if we don’t have a physical world to stand on.” Mikey Ippolito, a first-year at Clark University, said the Board’s decision “explicitly supports and upholds a globally destructive and white supremacist system that Clark claims it is committed to overturning.”
In a recent post on the Divest Clark Facebook page, the organization referred to the University’s motto, writing, “Divest Clark promises to effectively practice our liberal education and ‘Challenge Convention, Change Our World’ by saying, loud and clear, #RejectionDenied.”
Divesting from fossil fuels is not a difficult task. The students’ proposal outlines how it will not cause direct harm to the University’s finances, increase tuition, or decrease scholarships and financial aid, as demonstrated by the more than 39 American Educational Institutions and over 837 institutions worldwide that have already made such commitments.
Divest Clark encourages any and all concerned community members to attend the public meeting on Thursday March 15. It is vital that those with the power to affect change act to do so. Concerns and responses will be gathered for the Board to hear, and a plan of action will be created. As long as Clark students are on campus and paying tuition, they refuse to be silenced.