Tufts Students pressure Trustees on divestment

About 80 Tufts students rallied in support of fossil fuel divestment outside of a major meeting of their Board of Trustees on Saturday, February 7th. The rally and protest was organized by Tufts Climate Action, formerly known as Tufts Divest for Our Future, and consisted of speakers from various campus and local community groups.

Students and community supporters from Somerville carried signs and banners with slogans including “divest from climate chaos, invest in us” and “our endowment, our future.” The group of protesters gathered at the Tufts Campus Center, and the trickle of students grew into a significant mass. There, the speakers addressed the crowd.

Two student leaders, Miranda Willson and Claire Chen, from Tufts Climate Action shared personal accounts of their interest in climate change and their inspiration for supporting and working on the fossil fuel divestment campaign. Miranda  spoke about the unjust impacts of climate change on a global scale, noting that it is the same communities grappling with poverty or racism that tend to face the worst impacts of rising seas, droughts, or pollution. “Our University failed us last year when it announced that it would not divest from the most destructive and corrupt industry in the world – the fossil fuel industry” she asserted.

Other speakers included Evan Seitz, an organizer from the fossil fuel divestment campaign targeting the Somerville, MA pension fund. The fossil fuel divestment movement has received support in the past from Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, but has faced barriers from Somerville’s retirement board. Hayley Ernyey, a leader in the outdoors group Tufts Mountain Club also called on the university to divest from fossil fuels, noting that clean air and a stable climate are important to those who enjoy hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and other outdoor activities.

A Tufts student representing the activist group Students for Justice in Palestine, Julia Wedgle, highlighted the connections between access to water, climate change, and justice for the Palestinian people. “Together we can fight for a future that is fossil fuel free and where Palestine is free from the river to the sea,” Wedgle said. A third student from Tufts Climate Action, Evan Bell, advocated for divestment from fossil fuels and calling on the Trustees of the University to act. “We’re fast approaching a time at which business as usual will no longer support life as we know it,” he argued. He concluded his speech: “lets stand in solidarity with all of those at the front lines of climate injustice. They are standing up and resisting because what we call an apolitical endowment, they call a matter of life and death. This is their lives. This is our lives. Tufts, Divest from destruction and invest in all of us.“

The crowd marched towards the University’s administration building, Ballou Hall, where the trustees were meeting. Organizers noted that fossil fuel divestment was not on the board’s agenda, which was one of their motivations for raising the issue. Protesters chanted “hey hey, ho ho, these fossil fuels have got to go” and other songs as they walked.

Tufts students block the door to Ballou Hall with a paper chain.

Upon arriving at Ballou Hall, students unraveled two long orange paper chains. The chains, according to student Claire Chen, consisted of slips of paper on which Tufts students had written about things of value to them that are threatened by climate change. The chain was draped across columns at the front of the building, symbolically blocking its entrance. “It forces the Trustees to break this chain and damage the things that we care about if they want to continue ignoring climate change and the divestment movement,” Chen told the crowd.

Police officers stood by the crowd to prevent the potential of disruptive entry into the building. Students did not plan attempts to enter the building, but hoped that their voices carried to the administrators and trustees inside.

Last year, Tufts students representing the divestment campaign concluded a series of meetings with a working group on the issue, established by University President Anthony Monaco. Many students felt that they were not respected in these meetings, and were dissatisfied with the process. One student, Ben Weilerstein, noted that there are actions Tufts University could take to begin a process of divesting from fossil fuels. “Professional investors, including Tufts alumni, have approached the University offering to help it divest from fossil fuels, and the Board of Trustees has said no,” he stated.

At the end of the rally, Tufts Climate Action members announced a campaign for graduating seniors and alumni of the University to withhold donations until the University has divested its endowment from the fossil fuel industry.