Board of Trustees Crucial in Next Step for Divestment

To the Editors:

The opening sentence of the Oberlin College Wikipedia article remarks that we were the first American college to regularly admit black students and women. The words “activism” or “advocacy” appear nine other times on the page in relation to student-led anti-war, civil rights and environmental efforts. These progressive actions have both defined us and galvanized other higher-ed institutions to follow in our footsteps. In contrast, the Wikipedia pages of Wesleyan, Haverford and Pitzer have either zero or one mention of the words “advocacy” and “activism.” However, those schools are each a part of a social justice movement that Oberlin isn’t: the fossil fuel divestment movement. Over the last three years, public campaigns to divest from oil, gas or coal have emerged in over 300 college campuses, businesses, cities and churches, with our historically progressive institution notably absent.

Divestment is the process of removing financial holdings from specific companies or industries as a political tactic used to stigmatize and highlight their immoral practices. Divestment, as a coordinated global movement in which many colleges, cities, businesses and churches participated, was particularly successful at denouncing South African companies during apartheid, as well as the tobacco industry.

In 2014, the fossil fuel divestment movement was reported to be the fastest-growing divestment movement in history, and yet Oberlin was not yet involved. Over the course of the 2014–2015 academic year, five Oberlin students recognized this absence and came together to write and submit a fossil fuel divestment proposal to the Board of Trustees. The proposal was submitted alongside numerous endorsements from students, faculty, the Student Senate and various alumni groups.

The three-page proposal outlines several social and economic arguments calling for divestment and ultimately asks the Board of Trustees “to divest all direct holdings from the 12 corporations that contribute most to global greenhouse gas emissions,” arguing that “any economic investments Oberlin holds in the companies that contribute to these catastrophes reflect a tacit approval of the harm inherent to these corporations’ business models.”


Since its submission on March 12, 2015, the vice president of the College and the chief financial advisor of Oberlin’s endowment have reviewed the proposal and acknowledged that it includes all the requisite elements outlined in the Divestment Resolution. The Board of Trustees must now complete a “threshold review” and make a decision.

They could respond in a number of different ways. In one situation, the Board of Trustees will approve the proposal early on this semester. In another, they may dismiss the proposal outright or simply fail to give a direct response. Either way, the next steps for the fossil fuel divestment movement hinge on the Board’s next meeting, taking place in Oberlin from Oct. 8–10.

For more information, visit the Oberlin Fossil Fuel divestment blog.

–Naomi Roswell

College sophomore

–Jasper Clarkberg

College junior

–Ellie Lezak

College junior

–Hayden Arp

Double degree junior