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Yale Fossil Fuels Issue Burns

The business interests of Stanford University, The New School and Syracuse University (among other major schools) are jettisoning fossil fuel investments. Why is Yale University arresting students who want them to do the same?

On April 9, about 150 Yale University students staged a protest at the New Haven campus’ Woodbridge Hall, culminating with a sit-in outside the office of president Peter Salovey. The protest was organized by Fossil Free Yale (FFY) as part of an ongoing campaign calling for Yale to divest its $24-billion endowment’s investments in fossil-fuel companies. Nineteen students were arrested for trespassing and, although the university has rejected the larger divestment movement in the U.S. in favor of other actions to combat climate change, FFY’s efforts continue.

Coastal Connecticut magazine recently caught up with Chelsea Watson, FFY’s director of communications (a rising junior and environmental studies major) for an update.

CC: Since the April 9 protest, has FFY had any further discussions with the Yale administration regarding divestment?

CW: We continued to meet with the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR), the only administrative committee available to us. The ACIR advises the Corporate Committee on Investor Responsibility (CCIR), which then advises the Yale Corporation. These conversations never take place with less than two or three degrees of separation between our group and the actual decision makers. After meeting with the ACIR for the past two and a half years, the official channels have proven slow and ineffective. We hope, with the boost in momentum from the student mobilization this semester, for more productive meetings in the future. We have never met with the CCIR or the Yale Corporation despite repeated requests.

The ACIR has encouraged us to submit another report this fall that details the changes in our proposal, includes new research, and discusses specific case studies in which fossil fuel corporations exhibit unethical behavior. We hope that this time around, conversations with Yale Corp. will be more inclusive and transparent.

CC: What was the ultimate fate of the 19 Yale students who were arrested?

CW: The students, including myself, were cited for a simple trespass and given $92 fines each, totaling $1,748, which was paid through donations. The students were summoned to the university’s Executive Committee to face potential disciplinary action. However, after the hearing all charges were dismissed. There have been no further legal ramifications, and the relationship between the students and the Yale police department remains respectful and amicable.

CC: What’s next for FFY?

CW: Fossil Free Yale had a large presence at graduation, where seniors pinned our trademark “orange square” to their gowns. We hope to connect with alumni at reunions later this month. Next fall, in addition to furthering relationships with student and community groups, we will continue to work with the ACIR and hopefully initiate a dialogue with Yale Corp. itself. With so many big names divesting this year [including Stanford University, The New School and Syracuse University], the issue is becoming more difficult to ignore. By supplying the resources and information needed to persuade the administration, and demonstrating the student power and organization behind this issue, we hope the university will realize the urgency and engage with us.

Image Credits: Shutterstock

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By: Bob Woods

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