Facing the smog-choked San Gabriel mountains, about a hundred students and community members gathered Friday afternoon at Pomona College’s Bixby Plaza to demand the 5Cs divest from fossil fuels. Organized by Divest 5C, Sunrise Claremont, KKR Kills and Students for Justice in Palestine, the demonstration touched on intersections throughout Claremont’s climate justice activism.
The rally began with a statement of solidarity with survivors at Pitzer College, who called out the school’s administration and Title IX office earlier that week for failures to discipline offenders and support survivors of sexual assault.
Members of Sunrise followed to make a case for more transparency on the colleges’ investments.
“Pomona loves to talk about the importance of community building, but how can we trust that they have our best interests at heart if they won’t even tell us where our money goes?” asked Nicholas Black PO ’24.
Pomona politics professor Heather Williams called out the 5Cs’ historic lack of action on divestment and other steps to curb the threat of climate change.
Congress was warned as early as 1988 about the dangerous impact of greenhouse gases, she said, “so for me in 2021, to stand in shirtsleeves in December — albeit in Southern California — talking to all of you in unseasonable warmth in the middle of a cycle of fires and floods and droughts, for me, is really, really hard.”
Pointing out that no college trustees were in attendance, Williams encouraged students to have direct conversations with power holders, including the 5Cs’ executive staffs.
“At the end of the day, you are the reason they have jobs and appointments,” she said. “And your concerns are total. They are existential. So if you need to get creative, do it. Find ways of having those conversations.”
Claremont SJP leader Sarah Burch PO ’22 spoke about the connections between global imperialism, oppression and the climate crisis.
“Recognizing our complicity as Americans, as college students, and as Pomona students in all of these things, and then realizing that there’s a huge thing sitting in front of us that carries a lot of potential — it’s not impossible, it’s not so crazy, it is really the first step in any kind of real semblance we can have on this campus, to have disclosure, work toward divestment and take a moral stance,” Burch said.
Pitzer history and anthropology professor Dan Segal called on a change in leadership at the Claremont Colleges who have yet to divest their endowments from fossil fuels.
“In 2021, no college should be invested in fossil fueled planetary destruction,” he said. “The trustees of CMC, Pomona, Harvey Mudd and Scripps and the presidents of those institutions who insist on investing in fossil fuel planetary destruction are unfit to serve.”
Pitzer College, which divested in 2014, still has ties to fossil fuels in its investments through BlackRock, a multinational investment management corporation which invests heavily in non-renewable resources, Segal said.
While the rest of the Claremont Colleges have not announced plans to divest, Segal said the next step for Pitzer College is to remove its endowment funds from BlackRock.
Segal drew a connection to student activism last year and the resignation of an embattled Pitzer board member, BlackRock Vice Chairman Robert Fairbairn.
“Kudos to everybody who did that BlackRock activism and forced the resignation of somebody who is unfit to serve and [someone who] is not now on the Pitzer board, thanks to the student activism,” he said
Segal went on to compare Pitzer’s connection to BlackRock to Claremont McKenna College’s connection to Kohlberg, Kravis and Roberts, a global investment group founded by two CMC alumni, trustees and major donors, George Roberts CM ’66 and Henry Kravis CM ’67.
“These are not honorable people,” Segal said. “Nobody believes that these are enormously inspiring, admirable people who we should remember for their great deeds, they have bought the honors and that is corruption. It is time to remove their names.”
Segal’s exhortation expanded to include a plea to “broaden calls for divestment” to include faculty retirement funds, referencing a push to divest the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, which manages $1.3 trillion in assets, from fossil fuels.
KKR Kills organizer Peter Dien CM ’25 capped off the rally by criticizing CMC’s relationship with Kravis and Roberts.
“We do not want our education to fund colonialism and oppression, and we’re here to ask that it isn’t funded anymore,” Dien said. “When we see Kravis Center and Roberts Pavilion and the only environmental center on CMC’s campus, which is named Roberts Environmental Center — when we see that, we no longer see great efforts of social change. We see genocide, capital G. We see oppression.”
Condemning CMC and Pitzer for taking disciplinary action against a KKR Kills protester, Dien called on students to join the cause.
“I ask all of you to offer your support, offer your lives — I mean, maybe not lives, but offer your voices in support of this organizer. Because this is unjust. They think they can cut off the head of a movement that has no head. It is all of us,” he said. “If we want to put planet before profit, we need to start deeply criticizing institutions like the Claremont Colleges that have consistently put profit over people.”
Editor’s note: Nicholas Black is an opinions writer at TSL.
Jenna McMurtry PO ’24 currently serves as a news editor for TSL.