While students chanted and toted signs demanding climate justice at peer institutions across the country on Fossil Fuel Divestment Day, members of the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition quietly prepared for their upcoming presentation at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate.
Last Thursday, students at the University of Pennsylvania held homemade gravestones outside of a campus library. Harvard University activists crowded an administrative building for roughly an hour, chanting for divestment from fossil fuel companies while reading from packets filled with poems and statements. And at Cornell University, climate protesters staged a dance party on a major intersection — blocking traffic and “wedding” puppets representing oil companies and the university.
But at Yale, the Endowment Justice Coalition — which helped organize the halftime interruption at November’s Yale-Harvard Game — did not plan to directly participate in the worldwide demonstrations, organizers told the News. Now they are preparing to speak at the FAS Senate meeting, where Chief Investments Officer David Swensen, Yale Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility Chair Jonathan Macey LAW ’82, Yale Environmental Humanities Initiative coordinator Paul Sabin ’92 and former FAS Senate Chair and Nobel Prize-winning environmental economist William Nordhaus ’63 will be present.
At the Senate meeting on Thursday, members of the EJC will speak for a total of four minutes to advocate for divestment. This gathering will be among the first opportunities in which activists will be able to discuss the topic with Swensen. As significant as this upcoming meeting is for their cause, EJC member Nora Heaphy ’21 said that there is “no direct connection” between their lack of public action and the upcoming discussion.
Heaphy added that her team has been focusing its efforts elsewhere: working “behind the scenes” to “lift up” several other events across the nation.
“The EJC … has been taking the past couple of weeks to focus on how we can build an even stronger, more united coalition between the groups at Yale,” she said. “[We intend to] gear up to come back even stronger this semester to hold Yale accountable.”
This latest national day of demonstration comes after notable divestment victories at peer universities in recent months. Nearly two weeks ago, Harvard’s faculty voted overwhelmingly in favor of divestment, and soon after Georgetown University announced its pledge to divest from fossil fuel companies. Last month, Penn President Amy Gutmann said the university would not invest in the coal and tar sand industries.
The University’s endowment managers typically do not comment on its investments. University President Peter Salovey told the News in a November email that while Yale does not favor divestment, it requests that its endowment managers channel the University’s money into companies that consider the social and economic costs of climate change.
Other student groups at peer institutions used Divestment Day to advocate for their unique approaches to divestment. According to Tessa Weiss, co-chair of MIT Divest, her organization — while dedicated to divestment — focuses mainly on halting the spread of climate disinformation and anti-climate change lobbying. While they held no large demonstration, she said students involved in MIT Divest spent Divestment Day to hand out pins for MIT community members to wear to demonstrate their support for the cause.
“Overall, we think the effort went well,” Weiss said. “Some professors were very proud to be wearing the pins as well, so on the whole, definitely a positive event, and this semester we’re trying to … gain both student support and faculty support. So I think this was a very good, kind of intro event to a lot of other actions we’ll be seeing in the spring.”
According to Princeton fourth-year graduate student Micah Fletcher, organizers from Divest Princeton used the entire week to promote their cause. They focused on their formal proposal — which calls for no donations to be made to Princeton until the university divests — to the Council for Princeton University Community Resources Committee, which determines investment decisions for Princeton. On Thursday, he said, a group of over 50 students marched to Princeton’s main administrative building — which houses the president’s office — to deliver a physical copy of the proposal.
Heaphy and others held a rally after their court hearing in December, during which dozens of activists received community service obligations for their interruption of the Yale-Harvard Game. But while the group has held several actions, including the high-profile demonstration at the Yale-Harvard football game, Heaphy told the News that there are no plans to stage a demonstration after the FAS Senate meeting.
And in an email statement to the News, economics professor and Senate Chair John Geanakoplos said that he hopes the discussion will take place uninterrupted.
“We have asked the world’s greatest university endowment investor, the world’s greatest expert on the economics of climate change, three other distinguished Yale faculty and four undergraduate student activists to speak,” he wrote. “I think everyone is eager to become better informed about one of the most pressing issues of our day, so I am expecting a wonderful debate without incident.”
The Senate meeting will take place at Connecticut Hall from 4 to 6 p.m.
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