Yesterday evening, around 30 members of Fossil Free Yale gathered inside Woodbridge Hall to call for the divestment of Yale’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry, a cause made prominent by President Donald Trump’s recent appointments of climate-change deniers to his cabinet.
At the event, undergraduates as well as faculty from the Yale School of Forestry held signs depicting former Texas governor Rick Perry, Secretary of State and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. From the foyer of Woodbridge Hall, the speakers took turns addressing ways in which each of these cabinet picks had denied climate change or encouraged environmentally harmful industries.
Organizers also distributed a printed excerpt from “The Ethical Investor” — Yale’s 200-page guidebook to investment — which was recited in unison at the close of the demonstration.
“Because a world in flames is not one in which a university can possibly maintain the ingredients of an Academic Context, the university should actively and aggressively pursue the amelioration of the social crisis if it is to be true to its own mission. … In extraordinary crisis situations, no citizen (individual or institution) may limit himself to ordinary (minimal) responses,” the group recited.
As students congregated on Monday, New Haven police officers entered the building to investigate the crowd but were sent away by Woodbridge Hall staff. This response was a striking difference to the arrest in 2015 of 19 FFY protestors who participated in a “sit-in” demonstration inside Woodbridge Hall.
After the demonstration, Pilar Montalvo, director of administrative affairs for the President’s Office, thanked the participants and suggested that they notify the office in advance if they plan to demonstrate in the future so that staff members could “set something up.”
According to Tristan Glowa ’19, an FFY organizer, the group has held protests intermittently for four to five years, the largest of which was the 2015 sit-in. Yesterday’s demonstration, the FFY press release said, was a part of a national day of student action to resist “dangerous policies” and “climate denial within the new administration.”
“In this really sort of severe political moment where we need climate action and know this [presidential] administration isn’t going to provide it, we really need Yale to step up,” Glowa said.
Cassandra Darrow ’18, another organizer of the demonstration, noted that the group must work hard regardless of the presidential administration as it has had difficulty making progress in the past. Darrow explained that the group has worked with multiple administrative bodies, such as the Yale Corporation on Investor Responsibility, the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility and Yale’s chief investment officer, David Swensen GRD ’80. However, she said, each administrative body has claimed that the decision to divest was not in its power.
“It’s difficult because we’ve been going through these channels — it’s not that we can’t access them, it’s that they’ve been very ineffectual,” she said. “There’s a lot of stagnancy going on, so it’s mostly superficial accommodation that we’ve met, rather than true engagement with our cause.”
While Darrow recognized that the decision to divest was “not technically” in the hands of the President’s Office, Montalvo said Woodbridge Hall has always been glad to speak with FFY and hear the information they present whenever they come. University President Peter Salovey has previously told the group that he would pass along any information FFY delivers to his office, Montalvo added.
Yale’s endowment is around $25.6 billion.