At 11:30 on Monday morning, Calvin Harrison ’17 opened the double doors of Woodbridge Hall and hand-delivered a letter addressed to University President Peter Salovey.
He was not alone. Over 20 members of Fossil Free Yale — a student group advocating that the University divest its assets from fossil fuels — solicited students passing Woodbridge Hall to sign letters urging the University to reconsider divesting its assets from fossil fuel companies. Each signed copy was placed in the office of the President. As of 1:20 this afternoon, Pilar Montalvo, the director of administrative affairs in Woodbridge Hall, said that 181 letters had been delivered.
“Yale must take the moral course and use its investments to catalyze large-scale market shifts and public policy action against climate change,” the letters read. “You, President Salovey, along with the rest of the Yale Corporation, can help Yale safeguard the planet for its students and for the world.”
Monday demonstration follows the Yale Corporation’s Committee on Investor Responsibility Aug. 27 decision to not divest the University’s assets from fossil fuel companies, and is part of a series of attempts from students to reverse the outcome. Over the past year, FFY members have picketed, held a vigil and sponsored a Yale College Council referendum in which 83 percent of voting students supported divestment.
While event participants said the letters may not have a major influence on the administration’s stance, they noted the action demonstrates ongoing campus interest on the topic. Project Manager Mitch Barrows ’16 said the strategy for FFY going forward will be to galvanize support for divestment on campus, even though he does not think the Corporation will not revote or revisit the issue under current circumstances.
Salovey told the News in an email that he planned to share the letters with the Yale Corporation. He added that while the CCIR agreed that the problems caused by greenhouse gas emissions present grave danger to the future of humanity, divesting the University’s assets is not the solution.
“[The CCIR] reasoned that focusing on fossil fuel suppliers ignores all of the other sectors of the economy that cause carbon emissions and contribute to the problem, or the ‘social injury,’” Salovey said.
When asked whether the issue of divestment was closed, Salovey said that the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility may reconsider the issue only if new information came to light suggesting their current view is not appropriate.
However, leaders of FFY believe the missing information can be found in the message they delivered.
The letters, which are written in the first person, decry the vote by the Corporation to reject divestment, using Salovey’s previous statements about climate change to outline the apparent hypocrisy of the decision. Although the letter concedes that Yale has taken steps to improve climate awareness on campus, it argues these actions are not sufficient.
In addition to hand-delivering letters, FFY also set up an online copy of the text that individuals could sign. Barrows said as of 6 p.m., 61 individuals had signed the online version.
“The problem with the Yale Corporation is that they are ignoring [student] voices and this [demonstration] is making our voices active,” said Tristan Glowa ’18, a member of FFY. “[The letter] shows they can’t get away with ignoring issue of climate justice and the moral imperative to divest.”
Students affixed their signatures to the bottom of the printed letters and then lined up with the intent to place them on the desk of the president. Some students even carried in multiple copies with names of students who could not be in attendance, but still wanted their message delivered.
Roughly a dozen students entered the offices until the administration took action of its own. Montalvo stood at the entrance of Woodbridge Hall to receive letters at the door.
When asked why she was standing on the steps of Woodbridge, rather than permitting each student to deliver letters directly, she said it was only a matter of convenience.
“[It’s] so that they don’t have to walk as far,” Montalvo said.
By 12:30 pm, event organizer Alexandra Barlowe ’17 said administrators had shut the door to the president’s office and left a chair outside for students to leave their letters in a pile.
Montalvo said that while she was sure Salovey would take a look at the stack of letters, she could not confirm whether he would read each one since they appeared to be nearly identical.
Still, FFY organizers said roughly five to 10 students customized the text of their letters. YCC President Michael Herbert ’16 was also in attendance and delivered a personalized letter.
“I am here to give my suggestion on behalf of the 83 percent of students who voted yes to divest,” Herbert said.
He added the text of his letter was different than the FFY template since it places more emphasis on the results of the November 2013 referendum. He said he deferred to FFY regarding the specifics of climate change and the impact of fossil fuels.
Barlowe said Monday’s event was distinct from earlier attempts to influence the administration because this demonstration included general members of Yale’s student body.
“With this one, we wanted to do something that was visible and show student support in going in and putting a face to the letter,” she said. “It’s not just FFY saying something for them it’s them saying something themselves.”
Barlowe added that she was not discouraged by the administrative tactic of meeting students upon entrance because the protest still served as a distraction for administrators and showed that student opinion could not be ignored.
Barrows said the long-term timeline of FFY remains “fuzzy” because of the indeterminate nature of how the Corporation will proceed and whether it will be open to reconsidering divestment. He said some actions FFY will take may include creating a similar letter on behalf of faculty and calling upon donors to contact the University to voice their support.
“If there is one thing Yale cares about, it is money,” Barrows said. “So making them feel uncomfortable about the flow of donations may get their attention.”
He added, however, that students should not expect shantytowns on Beinecke Plaza reminiscent of the South African divestment protests during the 1980s at Yale. The emphasis is on coalition building, he said.
In May, Stanford University became the largest university to pledge to divest from coal companies.