BY ISABEL KERR '19
On Feb. 21, Senate took part in a vote concerning Mount Holyoke’s divestment from the fossil fuel industry. This vote, which reflects the student body’s position on the issue, is yet another step in the long saga of divestment at Mount Holyoke. The Mount Holyoke Climate Justice Coalition is the organization that has requested the vote, giving senators a week to talk to their constituents after hearing a presentation from the organization on divestment during the Feb. 14 Senate meeting.
The Mount Holyoke Climate Justice Coalition has been working on their MHC Divest campaign since Nov. 2012, the aim of which being the achievement of total divestment of the college’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry. According to the Mount Holyoke Climate Justice Coalition’s Facebook page, “MHC Divest seeks to redirect Mount Holyoke College’s investments away from the fossil fuel industry in order to build a sustainable future by upholding Mary Lyon’s vision of purposeful engagement in the world.” While Senate has never officially voted on the issue, an SGA-sponsored student referendum took place in Spring 2014, in which 88 percent of the student body voted for Mount Holyoke to divest.
The organization’s presentation to Senate stated their primary goals for the Mount Holyoke divestment committee, which includes immediately freezing further investments in the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies, divesting the approximately 2 percent of its endowment currently invested in fossil fuel companies within the next five years and reinvesting part of the endowment into environmentally and socially responsible enterprises. Mahima Poreddy ’18, one of the MHCJC presenters, said, “Fossil fuel divestment is the fastest growing divestment movement in history. It has doubled in size since 2015, there have been $5 trillion divested so far, and there have been over 500 divestment campaigns in colleges and universities across the world.”
Divestment campaigns are nothing new to Mount Holyoke. More than two decades ago, the board of trustees voted to “divest the school of its $14 million in stock in companies that do business in South Africa,” according to a November 1985 article from the Associated Press. This decision came after strong pressure from the entire community, despite the South African portfolio comprising 17.2 percent of the college’s endowment at the time.
Speaking on concerns for any impact fossil fuel divestment would have on the college’s endowment, Aayushi Mishra ’17 said, “An effective strategy to divest the endowment will not increase risks and will not lead to a loss in return. We are committed to the financial health of Mount Holyoke College.”
“Why should Mount Holyoke divest? Because money is political ... Divestment is about solidarity with frontline communities, which means communities who are most affected by climate change, like Keystone XL,” said Poreddy, referring to the moral stance the college officially would take by divesting. “We have a moral obligation to divest,” Isabel Crane ’19 added.
The Senate vote is timely, with the next board of trustees meeting taking place this upcoming weekend. “The board of trustees might be voting on divestment in their next meeting, which is Feb. 23-26. It’s important to have SGA support in addition to faculty, student and alum support,” said Crane, emphasizing the role SGA plays in voicing student concerns to the administration. “We have clearly demonstrated community support, but we haven’t spoken directly to Senate yet so that’s why we’re doing this now,” said Julia Worcester ’17, “It’s a great way to engage with students because our student referendum happened a few years ago but the administration hasn’t listened to that yet.”
After a week’s consideration, the Senate voted widely in favor of divestment. While no immediate action will be take post-vote, overwhelming SGA support may help the Mount Holyoke Climate Justice Coalition gain momentum in achieving their goal of a divested Mount Holyoke in their future dealings with the board of trustees.