Roughly 100 students gathered on Cross Campus Tuesday afternoon to protest Yale’s investments in fossil fuels, while still recognizing that the University had taken one step forward toward divestment.
Fossil Free Yale and the Association of Native Americans at Yale had long planned to co-host a protest in conjunction with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Tuesday visit to campus for the United Nations Global Colloquium of University Presidents. But the event took on new meaning when, earlier that day, Chief Investment Officer David Swensen announced that the University had dropped $10 million worth of investments related to coal and oil sands. Various students spoke at the protest, with several stating that the campaign to divest is perhaps transitioning toward an updated message: “Divest the rest.”
“We were really excited today to get the news that Yale has begun the process of partial divestment,” FFY member Rachel Calnek-Sugin ’19 said. “We see this as a small but significant step in our mission. We’re reading the fine print on Swensen’s statement because it has no commitment to divest fully, permanently or on ethical grounds on fossil fuels. So we know our work is far from done. But we’re excited to join other universities who have partially divested — divest the rest.”
On Tuesday, just after the letter’s release, FFY met with the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility to update the committee on a divestment proposal the group submitted in January, said Nathan Lobel ’17, an FFY member who attended the meeting. According to Lobel, the ACIR told FFY during the meeting that Swensen gave partial credit for the shift in investment strategy to “input and organizing on the part of students.”
FFY member Phoebe Chatfield ’18 said that in response to student demands and Ban’s support of divestment from the fossil fuel industry, she hopes the University will take additional steps to address the “racial and economic injustices of their investments,” including investment in private prisons.
Arabelle Schoenberg ’19 said that the timing of Swensen’s announcement did not seem coincidental, given that the rally Tuesday afternoon had been scheduled for weeks. She said that the University seems to be acting “secretly,” attempting to “sabotage” student-activists who planned the rally and putting FFY organizers into “response mode” in the hopes that the rally’s message would shift last minute.
“Yale has heard us, and they are scared,” Schoenberg told the crowd. She added that regardless of the intent behind the University’s partial divestment, the removal of $10 million from these companies was a victory — though a small one — for the group.
Nick Henriquez ’16, who attended the rally but is not part of FFY, said one concern for the protesters is that Swensen did not explicitly say his office partially divested from fossil fuels in response to the efforts of student activists.
Nate Bresnick ’18, a member of FFY who attended the rally, told the News that student activists have indeed pushed the University to take a step forward, though there is more work to be done.
“We’re beginning a new phase,” Bresnick said. “We got word today that they’re doing a small thing and they said themselves that wouldn’t have happened without student organizing. But they have a long way to go … Students are making demands and progress gets made.”
The protest comes at a time of increased advocacy for fossil fuel divestment. On Monday, roughly 50 University of Massachusetts at Amherst students staged a sit-in to demand the university’s full divestment from fossil fuel companies. The sit-in extended into Tuesday before 15 protesters were removed from the administrative building in the late evening following police warnings that they would be arrested if they did not leave, according to a statement released by the UMass Amherst Media Relations Office. Also on Tuesday, police arrested four Harvard students protesting fossil fuel investment at the Boston Federal Reserve, while Divest Harvard supporters conducted a protest outside the building.
Shuyu Song contributed reporting.