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Divestment campaign readies for an uphill climb

By Jess Linde

Section: News

October 2, 2015

Sitting in a circle at their weekly meeting, the members of Brandeis Climate Justice (BCJ) had a lot to think about as they faced a new semester and another year fighting to have the university divest its endowment from fossil fuels. These investments represent between seven and 10 percent of the university’s current endowment. As a club, BCJ seeks to “focus on looking at intersections of climate [change], race, gender and class,” according to member Abby Goldberg ’16. “Divestment is just one tactic toward destabilizing some of the major power structures.”

Since its beginning in 2012, the divestment campaign has become BCJ’s most well-known effort on campus in recent years. It has produced multiple rallies, parties at Chum’s and made an orange felt triangle a symbol of environmentalism at Brandeis.

Divestment has even drawn support from university faculty in the form of FACT, or Faculty Against the Climate Threat, and started a large enough conversation that former Brandeis President Fred Lawrence formed an “Exploratory Committee on Fossil Fuel” to discuss divestment in 2013. Also in 2013, a referendum sponsored by BCJ found that 79 percent of Brandeis students were in favor of fossil fuel divestment.

This April, the Exploratory Committee released a 173-page report in favor of fossil fuel divestment, promoting “sustainable, responsible, impact investing” as an alternative. This school year welcomed Mary Fischer as the school’s first manager of sustainability programs, as well as strong efforts by Vice President of Operations James Gray to reduce the campus’ carbon footprint, such as “Turn It Off Day.”

And yet, the dedicated members of BCJ feel largely ignored by the university administration. In mid-September, Goldberg and Saren McAllister ’18 confronted Interim President Lisa Lynch over the lack of transparency, and received a lukewarm response. This Thursday, there was still nothing new to report. “We never heard anything from the administration after the [Committee’s] report,” McAllister said. “Things like Turn It Off Day are good steps, but we are still profiting from catastrophic climate change and the destruction of our environment. We were told that we could talk to someone seriously about divestment, but that has not happened yet.”

McAllister noted that while BCJ had spoken with Fischer, and they “appreciate that her position even exists” at Brandeis. “[Fischer] only has an effect with on-campus sustainability, and divestment is a bigger issue,” McAllister said. BCJ members had also been in contact with Student Union representatives to the Board of Trustees, who gave no indication that divestment would be brought up at the next Board meeting. “The exploratory committee promised that divestment would come up this fall to the Trustees,” said Goldberg. “But the person from the Union gave us the impression that it was definitely not going to happen.”

Though this Thursday’s meeting dealt mostly with the creation of a banner for a divestment rally at MIT the next day, the attendees agreed that visibility is, at the moment, the most pressing issue for the campaign. “We need to tell [the administration] that they are betraying the demands of the students, the faculty, and their own committee” said a student who asked to be identified only as “Phil,” at the meeting. In this regard, CMJ members discussed tabling for a pro-divestment petition, organizing performances at Chum’s and, of course, flooding the Brandeis campus with more divestment triangles.

The group also discussed publicity for their Oct. 15 event hosting journalist Wes Stephenson in discussion of his new book. Overall, there was a feeling of weariness at the meeting, but not a weariness that would result in surrender. Rather, a second wind was imminent. BCJ may have to scale another hill to get results from Brandeis that satisfy them, but they already have their banners raised, and their climbing boots laced up.

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