Students demonstrate against CMC trustees’ fossil fuel investments

Protestors hold banners that read "Libertad Para Fidencio Aldama", "Wet'suwet'en are stronger than CGL, KKR's investment=0", and "Tu Gasoducio Por Territoria Yaqui Ha Derramado Sangre No Prosperidad Economica"
Demonstrators at Claremont McKenna College call for the removal of Henry Kravis and George Roberts’s names from the school’s buildings. (Nanako Noda • The Student Life)

Chants of “Remove their names” rang out Tuesday evening outside Claremont McKenna College’s Roberts Pavilion as more than 100 students from across the 5Cs protested Kohlberg Kravis Roberts’s Oct. 1 acquisition of a stake in Sempra Energy, denouncing natural gas lines that plow through Indigenous lands.

KKR is a global investment group founded by CMC trustees and cousins George Roberts CM ’66 and Henry Kravis CM ’67. Together, they have donated more than $100 million to CMC, and are recognized across campus with namesake buildings like Roberts Pavilion and the Kravis Center.

The protesters claim KKR’s fossil fuel energy holdings infringe on Indigenous land rights and contribute to the current climate crisis.

KKR’s business interests are “genocidal investments … [that] illegally cross Indigenous territory without consent,” Ethan Vitaz PZ ‘22 said in a speech Tuesday evening. “That’s why we’re organizing here today.”

The 5C student protest was organized as a joint effort between student activist groups KKR Kills and Divest 5Cs, who are calling for the removal of Kravis’ and Roberts’ names on campus buildings and the revocation of their positions as trustees of the college. 

“Henry Kravis and George Roberts are valued members of the CMC Board of Trustees,” CMC spokesperson Gilien Silsby said via email. “We will not remove the Kravis or Roberts names from any CMC buildings or programs.” 

Divest 5Cs aims to see each of the 5Cs divest from fossil fuel investments, following Pitzer College’s lead in 2014. KKR Kills was founded in response to KKR’s December 2019 acquisition of a 65 percent stake in Coastal GasLink, whose pipelines run through traditional Wet’suwet’en land

Supporters in Canada have stood in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en as disputes continue over the CGL pipeline’s construction on their traditional land without full Wet’suwet’en consent. 

“CGL has signed community and project agreements with all 20 of the elected First Nations governments along the approved route – including the elected representatives of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation,” KKR spokesperson Cara Major said via email. 

Major conceded that although some Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have “signaled their opposition to the project,” CGL has continued to consult with them.

Although an open letter from British Columbia academics criticized Coastal GasLink’s operations’ threat to Indigenous artifacts, Major said that CGL has worked to “incorporate [Wet’suwet’en] feedback where possible, and care for sensitive landscapes and culturally and historically significant areas along the route.”

In April, KKR began the process to acquire a 20 percent stake in Sempra Energy for roughly $3.4 billion, a deal that was finalized this month

IE Nova, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, has been developing the Aguaprieta pipeline as part of a larger project that transports natural gas from Arizona to the northern Mexican states of Sonora and Sinaloa. 

A proposed section of the Aguaprieta pipeline would cut 11 miles through Loma de Bácum, a Yaqui town in Sonora that opposes its construction. The construction of the pipeline has divided Yaqui communities over whether to support or reject the pipeline. 

“While KKR does have a relationship with Sempra Infrastructure Partners, the portion of the Aguaprieta pipeline system in dispute by members of the Yaqui community is excluded from KKR ownership,” Major said, adding that “portion of the Aguaprieta pipeline is not operational while consultations between the Mexican government and the affected communities is ongoing.”

Isabella Garcia PZ ’24 has Yaqui blood in her family. Upon learning of KKR’s investments in the Aguaprieta pipeline, she said, the KKR Kills movement hit close to home. 

“I’ve definitely been trying to come to terms with the fact that I go to the institutions that are contributing to these terrible things…I’m just trying to grapple with that.”—Isabella Garcia PZ ’24

“I’ve definitely been trying to come to terms with the fact that I go to the institutions that are contributing to these terrible things,” Garcia said. “I’m just trying to grapple with that.”

Like other demonstrators, Garcia said she would like “open communication” about the roles of CMC’s trustees at the college and in the world at large. That “would be a good start for sure,” she said.

KKR Kills organizer Malcolm McCann PZ ’22 hopes to see KKR pull its investments from fossil fuels and other “companies that infringe on Indigenous rights” and “commit these types of evil colonial violence,” in response to activists’ demands, McCann said.

Since helping organize the protest, McCann has been in touch with the Yaqui community in Loma de Bácum, which has been resisting the pipeline for over a decade, he said.

In 2016, Loma de Bácum environmental lawyer Anabela Carlón Flores, challenged the legality of the Aguaprieta pipeline in court, causing a pause in pipeline operations while consultations between the local community and Mexican government continue.

In a Facebook post Tuesday evening, Carlón Flores expressed gratitude for the recent protest at Roberts Pavilion. 

“We want to see CMC take action and hold Kravis and Roberts accountable if they fail to do the right thing,” McCann added.

Malcolm McCann speaks over a megaphone.
Malcolm McCann PZ ’22 addresses demonstrators. (Nanako Noda • The Student Life)

Major noted that KKR is “committed to investing in a sustainable energy transition,” and that it is the seventh largest investor in solar securities in the U.S.

But Peter Dien CM ’25, who ran his first-year presidential campaign largely on bringing awareness to KKR’s investments, said KKR’s solar investments don’t offset his objections to the company’s actions.

“If you’re still oppressing Indigenous people … you can’t balance it out with doing something good,” Dien said.

In his exhortation to divest, Dien drew upon his experience as a QuestBridge scholar.

“It’s not that we’re asking them to not give us money anymore, it’s that we’re asking that that money is not funded on the back of the oppression of Indigenous people, … [the] earth, the land and the oppression of our future.”— Peter Dien CM ’25

“It’s not that we’re asking them to not give us money anymore, it’s that we’re asking that that money is not funded on the back of the oppression of Indigenous people, … [the] earth, the land and the oppression of our future,” he said in his speech at the protest.

Dien urged students to keep the fight against fossil fuel development alive.

“The question [to CMC] is do we want to be on the right side of history?” he asked. “And the question [to the community] is do you want to be a part of that history?”

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