BREAKING: Students stage sit-in to demand the Board seriously consider the student referendum on divestment

Just minutes ago, on the first day of the Swarthmore Board of Managers quarterly meeting, 20 Swarthmore students began a sit-in at the office of Chief Investment Officer Mark Amstutz to demand that he and the Board stop using their blanket rejection of any proposal for fossil fuel divestment. They rejected a student referendum that passed by a landslide not for political or financial reasons, but solely because they believe we should never take any social concerns into consideration when investing our endowment.

We are asking that all Swarthmore students, faculty, and staff who think the Board should fairly consider the divestment referendum to join us in Mark Amstutz’s office on the second floor of Parrish (Parrish 229 West).

We are here to ask Mark Amstutz, Greg Brown, Val Smith, and the Board: do you truly stand behind this policy? While we understand that some restraint around using the endowment for social purposes is important, these same standards would have prevented us from divesting from the apartheid regime in South Africa, a decision that we hope the entire Swarthmore community is glad the Board made.

The fossil fuel industry poisons marginalized communities and threatens the future of every student, just so they can extract the last bit of profit from their reserves. We want to be able to look back years from now and know that we as students and as an institution took powerful action to stand for climate justice as the fossil fuel industry and Trump administration joined together to prioritize profit over science, communities, and our future.

We want to look back and know that Swarthmore added its voice to an unprecedented coalition of institutions that have divested from fossil fuels, ranging from leading universities like Stanford and Yale, to the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund and the city of Washington D.C., and even including the Rockefeller Family Fund, which was built off the family’s oil fortunes. Already, funds totaling over $5 trillion have been divested from fossil fuels.

Moreover, the Board is also are ignoring a strengthening financial case for fossil fuel divestment. For instance, Yale University partially divested last spring, citing financial risk as the primary reason for divesting. A growing chorus of financial and political leaders, including former Shell Chairman, Mark Moody-Stuart, billionaire investor Tom Steyer, former Vice President Al Gore, and UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres ‘79, have advocated for divestment as a sound financial decision. Even investment bank HSBC, in a report to investors, advised divestment, warning that investors who stay in fossil fuels “may one day be seen to be late movers, on ‘the wrong side of history.’” Even the Board’s own investment expert has endorsed divestment for financial reasons.

This is not the first time that students and faculty have gotten a “no” from the Board. The anti-apartheid divestment campaign spanned eleven long years: eleven years of being ignored, sidestepped, and rejected by the Board. Despite the Board rejecting divestment four times, students and faculty persisted, taking increasingly escalated action, and in 1989 the Board committed to a plan to divest from apartheid in South Africa.
Due to student and faculty efforts, the Board ultimately stood on the right side of history. Now, as the Trump administration partners with the fossil fuel industry to push disastrous climate policies that threaten millions of people and our collective futures, we need our Board to take a stand for justice once again. And we are confident that if we stand together as a community, we will win.

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