September 24 marked the beginning of a mid-week, two-day long series of actions regarding climate change and Vassar’s role in the climate movement. In light of the recent People’s Climate March in New York City, students from a variety of environmental organizations and committees sought to educate fellow students about the perceived need for increased urgency and action on Vassar’s campus on these environmental issues.
On the first of the two days, members of the Vassar College Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, also known as Divest VC, assembled outside the All College Dining Center (ACDC) for their Human Oil Spill demonstration. Members of Divest VC, one of the many environmental campaigns run by the Vassar Greens, dressed in black clothing, laid on the steps of the ACDC and shouted chants explaining their cause and their goals. Divest VC Campaign Co-Coordinator Ben Lehr ’16 said about the project, “So at Vassar Greens, we have different campaigns. We’ve done stuff like get bottled water off campus, promote reuse, and this divestment campaign is one of our biggest projects yet.”
The demonstration, which was also staged earlier this year, was one of Divest VC’s numerous efforts to raise awareness among the student body about the facts of the divestment movement and how students can do their part in working towards Vassar’s complete and public divestment in the fossil fuel industry. Elise Ferguson ’17 commenced the event with a speech on Divest VC’s mission. She said, “Vassar strives to be sustainable and encourages its students to make sustainable choices. But individual choices are not enough to combat the huge challenges posed by global climate change. It’s time that we demand immediate action and real change to back up our environmental and social justice ideals.”
As students passed by, many voiced their approval of the rally, cheering along with the students participating in the event. “I thought it was definitely effective in raising awareness,” remarked Sufyan Abbasi ’18.
Abbasi continued, “It made us rethink the way in which we view oil, that a lot of Vassar’s endowment comes from oil money, which we know contributes to the destruction of the environment. These kinds of displays of activism are important to express our opinions as students and I’ll be making sure to look out for the next one so I can join in.”
The following day, the College Committee on Sustainability and the Vassar Greens held a Campus Chat on Climate Change, discussing the recent People’s Climate March in New York City. It was attended by several students and faculty members, and how its message could be used to bolster environmentalist efforts on campus. Vassar Sustainability Coordinator Alistair Hall ’11 said about his experiences at the Climate March, “I was in the back of the group, sort of near the middle. It took me about three hours just to start walking, which sort of gave me a sense of real scale, that there are two miles of people in front of me and two miles of people behind me. We were all here together.”
Those that marched in New York City related stories that touched them personally, and voiced their excitement at the potential enthusiasm the Climate March could spark in Vassar students. Brooke Robinson ’15 said, “It was definitely something that Vassar students were really excited for, and a lot of people did get involved and went to the march. It definitely gave us some energy and brought us back with a new perspective on climate change issues.”
She continued, “It kind of brought us out into the real world, because Vassar is such a bubble that even though we do so much sustainability work here, sometimes it’s good to go outside of Vassar and experience it in a wider setting. It gave us a little bit of a reality check, in a lot of different ways.”
In addition to the focus on demonstrating the personal impact of the Climate March on members of the Vassar community who went, the campus chat served also as a general purpose meeting, providing a background of what has been happening in the Vassar community regarding sustainability as of late as well as an open discussion about issues important to people interested in environmentalism. Among the topics mentioned during the meeting were of need for major systemic changes, including divestment in the fossil fuel industry. The concerns of many students in the discussion, however, were more related to everyday choices. “Individual action is really hard. But I think, and maybe it’s weird to say, but it starts with little things, like using reusable water bottles. It’s the little things that I think are really important,” said Vassar Greens Co-President Gabby Pollack ’17.
Those who attended the campus chat also expressed great support for better synergy between environmentally-focused groups on campus, agreeing that student organizations with common interests and goals could accomplish more with greater cooperation. “There’s so many orgs on campus that stem from an environmental perspective, whether it be through food, or through nature or through just appreciating the environment in general,” said Pollack. “I definitely saw this at the Climate March, how even though there were so many groups, everyone was together because there is this overarching theme where everyone kind of has a common goal even if you’re fighting for one specific thing.”