Divestment creates Responsible Endowment Fund


Adyiam Kimbrough 1st year Alya Bohr 1st year Lorah Steichen 4th year Thomas Meinzen 1st year

Andy Monserud

With countless Whitman alumni on campus for class reunions last weekend, Divest Whitman began a new phase of their campaign against the college’s investments in fossil fuels. Group members tabled in Reid and held a concert open to alumni in an off-campus house in order to promote their new Responsible Endowment Fund, which enables alumni and other donors to show monetary support for the group.

The fund, created through the Responsible Endowments Coalition, works as a monetary incentive for the college to divest. If the college reduces its investments in fossil fuels to below 1% of the endowment by the end of the year, Divest Whitman will donate their parallel endowment in its entirety. After one year, half of the fund will be donated to the nonprofit Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy. If the college still has not divested by May 2017, the entire fund will go to the Alliance.

While the fund has existed for almost two months, Alumni Weekend served as its first major promotional push.

“The plan is to really launch it this weekend, but we haven’t really made an effort to reach [the majority of] alumni about it yet,” said junior Divest Whitman member Dani Hupper, before alumni came to campus.

“It’s not like we were trying to keep it under wraps,” added junior Mitchell Cutter, Climate Campus Coalition President. “But … its purpose is for alumni, and we haven’t really had the opportunity to talk to them yet.”

Divest Whitman’s efforts over alumni day focused on raising awareness about the fund, rather than soliciting alumni for contributions.

“The point is less the amount [alumni donate] and more [that we get their] contact information, so that we can maintain that connection with them and hopefully be able to reach them, and then perhaps they’d donate post-alumni weekend,” Hupper said. “The main objective of the concert [was] not to raise money there. Although that is certainly an objective, [the event was] to get our name out and the fund’s name out.”

Even though their main goal was not to raise funds, Divest Whitman’s efforts over alumni weekend paid off monetarily.  The fund rose from $455 to around $1000 between Monday of the week prior to alumni weekend and Tuesday the following week.  Divest Whitman’s stated goal for the fund is to earn $10,000 in a year and $15,000 in two years, with at least 300 donors.

Adyiam Kimbrough '19, Alya Bohr '19, Lorah Steichen '16, and Thomas Meinzen '19
Adyiam Kimbrough ’19, Alya Bohr ’19, Lorah Steichen ’16, and Thomas Meinzen ’19

Divest Whitman began to set up the Responsible Endowment Fund in early August with the help of several alumni.  Natalie Jamerson ‘13, who now works for the nonprofit Washington Environmental Council, was particularly involved in the process: she proposed the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy as the fund’s fallback recipient, and was heavily involved with developing Divest Whitman’s strategy for gaining the support of other alumni.

“I was very excited to see this sort of new level of commitment [to] … responsible investing,” Jamerson said. “I was eager to get involved because Divest Whitman was something that started my senior year, just as I was departing, and so now it feels good to support it as an alum as well.”

Cutter and Hupper emphasize that the fund is not intended to take money away from existing donations to the endowment, but to serve as a bonus fund.

“We’re not trying to go against the alumni giving board here,” Hupper said. “This isn’t a way for us to funnel money that would have otherwise gone to Whitman elsewhere.  We’re trying to get people to use their love of Whitman and their money as a way to make Whitman a better place.”

Jamerson sees the fund as a way to counteract the environmental impacts of the college’s existing investments.

“The point of the fund is to provide an alternate investment in clean energy technologies and [reduce] fossil-fuel pollution, to … offset or counterbalance the investments that the college is making in fossil fuels,” Jamerson said.  “Ideally, we would love the school to divest, and then that money we donate can go back to support the school and continue to show our alumni support.”

As Divest Whitman restructures following the graduation of many key members, alumni will remain a major target for the campaign over the next year.  Hupper sees them as one of the last major groups to be won over by Divestment, which was endorsed by a student referendum and faculty resolution last year.

“The best thing for our campaign now is to make it strong within,” Hupper said.  “Make the website as strong as it can be, make the fund as influential … as it can be, and gain the support of alumni. I mean, that’s really the network we have not tapped into. The students, for the most part, support us, the faculty support us, and now it’s time to get the alumni on board.”

Divest Whitman’s other objectives over the next few months include improving the functionality of their redesigned website and solidifying their base of student activism.

“We lost a lot of seniors last year, so our next step … is really to connect with the big group of first-years we have now,” Cutter said.  “They’re really gung-ho about it, but … we have to build ourselves as a group and sort of give them more institutional knowledge.”