Divest Whitman Moves in New Direction

Sarah Cornett

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Illustration by Eddy Vazquez.

Despite the Board of Trustees stating in a letter released on Feb. 8 that Whitman will not divest from fossil fuel companies, the student group Divest Whitman hasn’t lost sight of their goal for the college to divest. 

The letter, which held that board members did not view divestment from fossil fuels to be in the best interest of the college, has left group members disappointed, especially because it did not meet recommendations encouraged by an ASWC resolution passed last year. It asked trustees to limit future investments in fossil fuel companies and to create a committee with trustees, faculty, students and staff to look into divesting and how it could affect the returns of the college. The lack of response to these two recommendations left Smith and other divestment activists feeling like the trustees could have given it more consideration. 

“At first glance at their letter, it didn’t look to me like the trustees were honestly engaging in the issue,” said junior Collin Smith, one of the leaders of Divest Whitman. 

The group is now determining their next steps following the move by the trustees. The visibility achieved by the statement and the response to it, which put divestment in the spotlight, were positive aspects they hope to expand upon as they continue their campaign.

“At least we pushed them to respond,” Smith said. “Their response tells us that they know [divestment] is an issue, which is a win for us.”

Whitman is joining other college campuses who have received formal nos from their school administrations. Divest Whitman is looking to the recently established National Escalation Strategy Team of other campus divestment movements looking to strategize together following administrative responses similar to that of Whitman’s Board of Trustees. NEST includes Pomona, Harvard and Middlebury, among others.

“We’re hoping to learn from them when it’s appropriate to escalate and when it’s not. A lot of times, it has to be at the perfect juncture,” said sophomore Taylor Cook, the art and design coordinator for Divest Whitman.

Smith believes the changed focus for the movement and the response from the trustees have been exciting new steps for Divest Whitman.

“This is something we can work with and build student momentum to keep pushing. We’ve already gotten new people interested following the statement,” Smith said.

The group’s members are currently in what Smith calls a “brainstorming phase” and are planning to release an official response this week. Cook and other members of Divest Whitman are looking to creative expression as a possible next step, building on the large graffiti-style art piece that stood on Ankeny Field last spring. 

“I think our campus is ready for another expression about divestment. Art isn’t something printed and handed out like the trustees’ letter or pieces of campaign literature. It’s something everyone can look at and enjoy,” said Cook.

Among their plans for the future are increased faculty involvement, a potential referendum to the student body and greater coordination with alumni and media.

“Our plan is to take this to the student body. That’s one of the big next steps,” said Smith.

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