A crowd of over fifty 5C students gathered Monday night for a candlelight vigil is support of the recently initiated 5C Divestment Campaign.
“We are sparking a movement to shed light on our presidents and our administrations and reveal the irresponsible business practices of the fossil fuel industry and the contradiction of our colleges’ ethics and values in relation to our investments,” said Claremont Colleges Divestment Team co-organizer Jess Grady-Benson PZ ’14 to the crowd. “By lighting candles, we ignite this campaign to divest from fossil fuels.”
The 5C Divestment Campaign, which is operating in collaboration with 350.org, aims to pressure all five undergraduate colleges to divest their endowments from fossil fuel companies within the next five years. According to campaign literature, the Claremont Colleges collectively control almost $3 billion in endowments, which student activists believe should be invested in accordance with the values of the 5Cs.
“Our colleges cannot claim to be committed to sustainability while their endowment funds lack transparency and may be invested in dirty energy,” said 5C Divestment Team co-organizer Megan Tokunaga PO ’15. “We believe divestment is necessary to promote the well-being of current and future graduating classes who deserve educations that are not dependent on companies with morally ambiguous business models.”
The vigil began at Frary Fountain on Pomona College’s campus. where co-organizers Grady-Benson, Tokunaga and Kai Orans PO ’14 distributed banners and candles for supporters to carry as they marched. They first visited Claremont McKenna College’s Bauer Center to deliver their demands to CMC President Pamela Gann’s office in a letter outlining the demands of the campaign. Gann received them in person.
The group repeated this strategy, with students from each college delivering the same statement to their respective presidents. However, because the march took place after business hours, not all administrative offices were open. In those instances, students taped their statements to the outside of the presidents’ offices or, in the case of Harvey Mudd College, tracked down President Maria Klawe in the Hoch-Shanahan Dining Commons.
Pomona Geology Department Chair and professor Robert Gaines, who was present at the beginning of the vigil, said that although he strongly supports the Divestment Team and its objectives, he disagreed with the tactics of the Monday night vigil.
“I think that the protestors’ demands for five years is pretty reasonable,” he said. “I was pretty pleased with that, but I was really discouraged to see that what it was going to be was a march around to actually demonstrate outside of presidents’ offices, in sort of a way that was deliberately combative before any requests had been made at all.”
On Thursday, Pomona Acting President Cecilia Conrad responded via e-mail to the Divestment Team’s letter, which had been posted on the front door of Alexander Hall.
Conrad wrote that she had asked the college’s Committee on Social Responsibility to incorporate a discussion about divestment into their spring agenda.
“As a veteran of the South Africa divestment movement many years ago, I am sympathetic to the use of shareholder power to change corporate behavior,” Conrad wrote. “In response to that divestment movement, the College formed a Committee on Social Responsibility. This committee appears to me to be an appropriate venue for your request. I am asking the College Treasurer Karen Sisson, who staffs the committee, and Professor Tom Moore, the faculty chair, to include this issue in its spring agenda, and to invite representatives of your group for a discussion.”
While the Divestment Team will may to adjust its strategy depending on the response it receives from the colleges, Grady-Benson said that she wants the continuing effort toward divestment to be a collaborative movement between students and the administration.
“We have to play it by ear, but we also want this to be something that’s a cooperative conversation, a professional conversation really with the administrations,” Grady-Benson said. “It’s going to take a while for us to see what kind of relationship they want to have with us, but we want to approach it in a friendly and respectful way.”