Oberlin Must Embrace New Era of Divestment

To the Editors:

It is remarkable to be on a college campus that has three simultaneous divestment campaigns. Students at Oberlin are encouraging the administration to sell its stock holdings in three harmful, unjust industries: fossil fuel extraction and combustion, private prisons and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Divestment is a tactic designed to publicly stigmatize profiting corporations; it has limited economic impact on the targets, but its power comes from the statement made by severing ties with condemnable business. At the Board of Trustees’ March 4 meeting, trustees can discuss once again whether the College is willing to make those statements.

Divestment is not new to Oberlin’s campus. A generation ago, students urged the administration to sell the College’s stock in companies with business invested in the apartheid system of South Africa. Dismantling the apartheid regime and promoting peace ultimately came from within, but the outside support that flooded in when institutions worldwide divested was critical to the success. It took Oberlin nearly 10 years, three generations of students and many prolonged and coordinated actions to divest its endowment from the targeted companies, making Oberlin one of the last institutions to divest from South African businesses.

In this new era of divestment, we do not expect victory to take so long. The group of students working towards fossil fuel divestment submitted a proposal in March of 2015, and in November of the same year we received word that Oberlin College was not holding stock of the type we specified in the top 12 carbon-emitting companies. Thus, the Board couldn’t divest as per our proposal, but affirmed its commitment to honoring its objectives. In response, the fossil fuel divestment team revised our proposal to be more rigorous and in line with the national fossil fuel divestment movement that other colleges are pursuing; we intensified the number of targeted corporations from the “dirty dozen” to the top 200 carbon-emitting corporations. The Board of Trustees has the power to accept or reject this proposal and will hopefully be addressing it at this week’s meeting.

Around the world, divestment is gaining traction once again; in the last month alone, the Black Student Union at California State University, Los Angeles announced its private prison divestment victory, and the mayor of Copenhagen launched plans to divest the city’s $950 million investment fund from all coal, oil and gas corporations. We hope Oberlin will be next in the growing list of momentous divestors, but regardless of the decisions made this week, we ask the College and community to stand with us to either celebrate or redouble efforts to pass this important divestment motion.

Cecilia Wallace
College first-year

Naomi Roswell
College sophmore

Hayden Arp
Double-degree junior

Jasper Clarkberg
College junior

Ellie Lezak
College junior