Members and advocates of Barnard Columbia Divest gathered on Low Plaza Tuesday evening to show support for their initiative while group representatives met with the University’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing.
Leaders of BCD, which urges the University to divest from the fossil fuel industry, said the meeting marks how far the group has come since its inception in November 2012.
Earlier this semester, BCD successfully lobbied to include a ballot initiative on divestment—the first ever put forth by a student group—in a Columbia College student election.
“We were initially nervous about the divestment ballot initiative,” BCD member Daniela Lapidous, CC ’16, said. “But as we started talking to students, we became confident that we would at least cross the 50 percent mark.”
CC students voted on the resolution in conjunction with the special election for the University Senate on Oct. 18, and it passed with 73.7 percent student approval.
Three representatives from BCD met with ACSRI to present research and student opinions on the divestment issue. The students gave a presentation and then opened the floor for a Q-and-A session.
“They asked some questions about whether the cause would better be served by shareholder activism and about why other schools refused to divest,” Lapidous said of the committee.
ACSRI did not respond to requests for comment.
“With shareholder activism, we’ve done a lot of research on this and have seen that it’s been pretty ineffective with these companies,” BCD member Ryan Elivo, CC ’15, said.
Elivo emphasized that the situation is not unique to Columbia and that students want the school to take a stand on an important issue.
“These questions are common themes throughout every divestment campaign,” Elivo said. “Again, we emphasize that the point of divestment is to make a political statement, not a financial statement.”
BCD members said that ACSRI agreed to find out how much Columbia has invested in fossil fuels and release that information to them. According to Lapidous, 3.6 percent of Barnard’s endowment is invested in fossil fuels.
“One of our requests was that they post the meeting notes online, which they agreed to do,” BCD member Iliana Salazar-Dodge, CC ’16, said.
Overall, the BCD representatives said they felt as though the committee was receptive to the group’s arguments.
“We both recognize that this is an issue we’ll be working on together for a long time,” Elivo said.
During the meeting, other BCD members, including Kathryn Lee, BC ’17, gathered on Low Steps, holding letters that spelled out “DIVEST 4 CLIMATE JUSTICE!”
“The climate change movement is currently moving away from an elitist ‘save the forests’ standpoint and more toward a social justice view. We’re more concerned about people here in New York who are still suffering from Sandy or people in the Appalachians who don’t have clean drinking water,” Lee said.
“Divestment is going to happen,” she added. “It’s just a question of when.”
Michael Greenberg, CC ’16, also participated in the demonstration. “As the guy who asked PrezBo about divestment” at this October’s Fireside Chat, Greenberg said he cares deeply about the group’s aims.
“Divestment is a strong political tactic,” he explained, and one that “brings about real change.”
“When I spoke to President Bollinger, he said that divestment is for extreme circumstances,” Greenberg said. “If an industry that can harm all humanity for all time isn’t extreme, I’m not sure what is.”