5C Divestment Campaign to Continue at Pomona and Scripps

The Claremont Colleges Divestment Campaign celebrated a key victory when Pitzer College's Board of Trustees decided to divest from fossil fuels only 18 months after the campaign began organizing for the cause. However, for the students who are part of the campaign, this victory is simply one battle in a larger fight for climate justice.

Jess Grady Benson PZ '14, a co-founder of the 5C Divestment Campaign, said that campaign members are now looking to expand and support the other Claremont Colleges, beginning with Pomona College and Scripps College.

Elizabeth Medford SC '16 and Avery Pheil SC '17, 5C Divestment Campaign members, are focused on recruiting student support next semester and creating larger conversations about climate justice on Scripps' campus.

“It’s been an honor and such a great learning experience to work with Pitzer on their campaign, and I’m looking forward to applying the skills and the tactics that we learned to Scripps,” Medford said. “It’d be great to have our priorities as a school and our school’s wealth align with where our money is, like Pitzer now has.”

Pheil said that divestment is just a tactic to reach climate justice, and that next semester they will raise awareness by hosting events and getting more people involved to put pressure on Scripps and the other schools.

“Especially Pomona, since their administration said no to divestment over the summer,” Pheil said.

Pomona President David Oxtoby sent an email to the student body Sept. 24, 2013 stating that the Pomona Board of Trustees would not divest due to financial concerns. On Feb. 7, he announced that the school will be carbon-neutral by 2030. The divestment campaign is demanding a more concrete plan from the school, however.

“We’re trying to reignite the spark of the campaign [at Pomona] and let students, faculty, and administration know that we’re not going anywhere, and that we’re here and back to try and give this another shot,” Benson said.

According to Emily Hill PO '16, members and allies will convene next Thursday, May 1 at 2:30 p.m. at the Smith Campus Center and march to Oxtoby’s office to meet with him.

“We want Pomona to live up to their values and reach climate justice, and for the Pomona community to stand up and demand that they do that,” Kai Orans PO '14 said. “Pitzer’s victory demonstrates that there’s a lot that can be done that Pomona isn’t doing.”

Orans said that Pitzer has been bringing people together and working toward a plan, but that such collaboration has been lacking at Pomona.

“It seems like we give our proposal and then a few board members take a look at it and just say that divestment is not a good idea, but there’s no plan or any accountability,” he said.

Orans added that this is a values issue and that students should be asking themselves, “Are our actions reflecting the values we have?”

According to campaign member Melanie Paty CM '15, Claremont McKenna College is having more of a difficult time uniting its students. In April 2013, the campaign met with members from the Board of Trustees and were told that they were not willing to negotiate divestment anytime in the near future.

After that spring, Paty and co-leader Elizabeth Farr CM '15 went abroad, leaving CMC students without leaders to follow up on the campaign.

“If we don’t get support from our student body, I don’t feel like we have the capacity to do it all again on our own,” Paty said.

Paty added that the Board of Trustees said that divestment would negatively impact the school’s financial aid. However, proponents of divestment disagree. 

Pomona environmental analysis professor Char Miller said that although the Claremont Colleges have large endowments that are “complicatedly” invested in fossil fuels, it is possible for the other schools to divest without negatively impacting their resources.

“Pitzer has demonstrated that a school with over a $100 million of endowment with a pretty sophisticated and complicated endowment structure has been able to figure out a way by which to pull out of the fossil fuel economy and thus realize some of its mission, goals, and objectives as an institution,” Miller said.

Miller added that the size of a school’s endowment does not matter as much as the way in which the endowment is invested.

“Pitzer’s trustees, galvanized by student pressure, realized that they could make changes to how they invested with a minimal impact on that endowment, and that’s the real signal to the other colleges—not that it has less money, but that it was more willing to take this step and it doesn’t believe what the spreadsheets seem to indicate," Miller said. 

For 5C Divestment Campaign members, divestment is a human rights issue more than an environmental issue.

“There are communities in the LA [Los Angeles] area that are dealing directly with the injustices and consequences from the fossil fuels industry,” Medford said. “We’re trying to make connections to those communities and making it part of our campaign.”

“Pitzer has demonstrated that the presumed risk is not as risky as people have set,” Mills said. “The potential is very exciting.”

According to Nathan Geldner HM '16, little progress has been made at Harvey Mudd College in terms of divestment.

"Everyone on campus recognizes that climate justice is worth striving for in general," he wrote in an email to TSL. "The problem of course is that most of the endowment is hedgefunds which likely have fossil fuel stocks mixed in and inseparable."