Brandeis community members marched into the Shapiro Campus Center (SCC) demanding the university divest its endowment from fossil fuels this Tuesday, Oct. 27, an event that ended with Brandeis Interim President Lisa Lynch joining the activists to promise more substantive action on the issue of the environment. Lynch had just had a meeting of Brandeis’ Board of Trustees. The march was part of Brandeis Climate Justice’s “Brandeis Divestment Campaign,” which seeks to lobby the Board of Trustees and the university administration to ends Brandeis’ investment in fossil fuels.
“Our acting president has signalled her serious commitment to address the issue of sustainability during her tenure as president,” said Professor Sabine von Mering (GRALL/WMGS), at the ending rally. Von Mering, speaking for Brandeis Faculty Against the Climate Threat (FACT), also praised the efforts of newly-appointed Manager of Sustainability Programs Mary Fischer, while also calling for “definitive” action toward divestment. “Reducing our own carbon footprint means putting our mouth where our heart is, but divestment means putting our money where our mouth is,” said von Mering.
The march began on the Rabb Steps, with members of BCJ and FACT, as well as Heller and other graduate students and multiple Brandeis alumni, holding signs and shouting slogans. Just before noon, the group began their march toward the SCC, chanting in call-and-response and demanding Brandeis act immediately on divestment from fossil fuels. The march was the first example of direct action by BCJ of the semester.
BCJ had already made itself publicly known this semester with the proliferation of the symbol the divestment campaign, an orange triangle, posting triangles of orange tape all over campus and handing out small felt triangles to students. At the beginning of the year, BCJ members Abbie Goldberg ’16 and Saren McAllister ’18 confronted Lynch at a town hall she hosted to address students’ issues with the administration. Pressure by environmental activists on campus was cited by former President Fred Lawrence in his decision to create an “Exploratory Committee on Fossil Fuel” to address divestment in 2013. That same year, a referendum organized by BCJ showed that 79 percent of Brandeis students favored divestment from fossil fuels.
The Exploratory Committee released a 173-page report on their findings this April, and the report concluded in favor of “sustainable, responsible, impact investing” as an alternative to fossil fuel and promoted divestment. In addition to the hiring of Mary Fischer, Vice President for Operations James W. Gray has led sweeping efforts to increase sustainability on campus, including promoting “Turn it Off Day.”
Still, as of the march this Tuesday, the Board of Trustees has not responded to the Exploratory Committee’s report. “The [Board representative] from the Student Union gave us the impression that it was definitely not going to happen,” Goldberg told The Brandeis Hoot earlier this month.
Goldberg’s speech, which included a reading of BCJ’s letter to the Trustees, reflected frustration in the lack of response. “Brandeis cannot continue to claim to value social justice when it continues to invest in the destruction of our planet and future, and the exploitation of marginalized communities,” Goldberg said. “The Board of Trustees cannot continue to spend our money on burning the environment to the ground, especially when the students, alumni and faculty have all demanded divestment.” A letter of support on behalf of Professor Gordon Fellman (SOC) and the Brandeis PAX Program was read by Lindsay Mitnik ’16. Goldberg also led a call-and-response to the Board of Trustees demanding their ears.
Since beginning in 2012, the divestment campaign has sought to rally the entire Brandeis community around the cause of divestment through referendums, marches and the occasional party in Chum’s. On Tuesday, the campaign made it clear that this will continue until action is taken. BCJ will next host their “Divest Fest” event in Chum’s Coffeehouse on Friday, Oct. 30 at 9 p.m.