Divestment student referendum

Natalie Berg

An ASWC student referendum on support for fossil fuel divestment was put to a vote on Tuesday, March 3. The resolution passed with strong support, with 85.39 percent of voters voting “yes.” More than half of the student body voted on the resolution, with 849 total votes, or a 55.6 percent turnout.

According to sophomore ASWC Sustainability Director Dani Hupper, the text of the referendum is nearly identical to that of the faculty resolution passed in January. The bulk of the work went into the preparing the Faculty Resolution, a process that involved interviewing more than 60 faculty members.

“A lot of the work got done late October, November, and then we finished over [semester] break,” said senior Henry Allen, a member of the Divest Whitman campaign who was closely involved in writing the resolution.

Following the nearly unanimous passage of the faculty resolution, ASWC planned this student referendum as an opportunity for students to demonstrate their support of the faculty’s decision.

“We felt like the faculty resolution so well represented our beliefs on divestment and what we called for,” said Hupper. “All we’re doing [now] is calling for the students to vote on the same thing. That gives it more weight.”

To create the referendum, divestment supporters first had to gather signatures from 150 students, as required by ASWC by-laws. In less than two weeks, supporters gathered 263 signatures, more than enough to require ASWC to hold the vote.

Divestment supporters used many forms of media to reach out to potential voters. Emails listing reasons to support divestment were sent over many list-servs, posters in support of divestment were placed around campus and supporters performed in Prentiss Dining Hall on the day of the referendum, encouraging students to vote “yes.” ASWC also helped promote turnout, reminding students to vote with emails and fliers.

Last spring, the Student Referendum process was used for the first time in recent memory, and although two referendums passed, only one brought about results. The Sustainability Director Act created Hupper’s position, which has been renewed for next year. However, the Student Trustee Resolution was not passed on by ASWC to the Board of Trustees until this October, and its suggestions were rejected by the Board.

Although the students’ opinion supports the faculty vote, whether the Student Referendum will bring about much concrete change remains to be seen, but the Divest Whitman campaign is optimistic.

“It’s one check in a long list of things we want to do to put pressure on [the trustees],” said senior Ari Ronai-Durning, who was involved in writing the Faculty Resolution and the Student Referendum.

Hupper reiterated these sentiments.

“Nobody thinks that there will be big change coming from divestment or this legislation. But we do think that constant pressure on the Board of Trustees with faculty pressure, with student pressure, with pressure from alumni, all that adds up to hopefully eventual divestment,” said Hupper.

Supporters of Divestment perform in Prentiss Dining Hall. Photo by Tywen Kelly.
Supporters of Divestment perform in Prentiss Dining Hall. Photo by Tywen Kelly.