On Sunday April 12, DivestVC held another “Human Oil Spill” event for Admitted Students weekend in front of the All Campus Dining Center (ACDC) to raise awareness about their fossil fuel divestment campaign.
A group of students, dressed all in black, lay on the steps to represent an oil spill and their effects on the environment. On their Facebook event page, they explain the purpose of holding the event during the weekend prospective students and their families are visiting as follows: “The administration pays more attention when [they] target admissions events. They see admitted students as a source of money and prestige for the college. Targeting such events makes them nervous about their bottom line and the school’s reputation, and consequently get their attention. Additionally, we will be raising awareness about our movement in a new generation of college students.”
VCDivest member Elise Ferguson ’17 explained their goals for holding the protest. She wrote, in an emailed statement, “The goal was to get the attention of the administration. Past human oil spills have had that goal as well, but they were also oriented towards raising awareness on campus. The only oil spill that we really got any push back from the administration on was the one that we had during an open house.
She continued, “It seems that the administration cares more about our events when admitted students see them too. Additionally, we had the opportunity to get divestment on the radar of soon-to-be college students. Hopefully, once made aware of the issue, they will be inclined to join a campaign at whatever college they attend next year.”
The previous Human Oil Spill happened in October, in the Retreat, where participants demonstrated similarly while the Vassar College Board of Trustees met for the last time of that semester. The group moved from the Retreat to the room where the trustees meeting was happening, and chanted, “What do we want? Climate Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
Earlier in 2014, protesters created the “Human Oil Spill” protest outside the White House in opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline. Similar to how VCDivest recreated the protest on campus, the environmentalists lay a black sheet outside the White House gate and pretended to be dead. Their aim was to get the attention of President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.
The divestment campaigns in universities started a few years ago and quickly spread to hundreds of schools, with over two dozen successes. So far over two dozen schools around the world have committed to divesting from fossil fuel companies, including Stanford University, Pitzer College and The New School. (Fossil Free, “Divestment Commitments”) Each of these institutions, which number over 25, have not only chosen to divest their endowments from fossil fuel companies, but have also taken the opportunity to begin to cut down their carbon footprints as well.
In addition to colleges and universities, many cities, counties, religious institutions and other institutions have also made the commitment to divest from fossil fuels.
VCDivest’s goal, as listed on their Facebook page, reads, “The campaign’s current tasks include researching exactly which companies Vassar is currently invested in and to what extent, garnering support from the student body, faculty, and alumni, and building towards our goal of Vassar’s publically-announced divestment from twenty environmentally unsound companies…”
Ferguson joined the movement as a freshman and explained her choice to join the divestment campaign on campus and her experiences with the group. “Initially, I will admit the whole thing was kind of confusing, but I learned more about the arguments and counterarguments over time and the big picture became clearer and clearer to me,” she explained. “Being a part of this campaign has been incredibly rewarding, though also frustrating at times. The nature of this movement is such that we don’t get a lot of concrete wins. However, I can see us inching closer and closer towards our goals at Vassar and also as a broader National movement.
“Additionally, being a part of such a powerful and growing national movement feels very empowering and gives me a lot of hope despite the obstacles,” she continued. “I think that it is incredibly important not to give up on a movement just because it takes time to achieve your goals. Sometimes important things just take a long time to happen, and we need to learn how to be patient and how to be willing to make that kind of long-term investment. Additionally, though the end goal is divestment, the movement is productive even before divestment is won. For example it gets people talking about the fossil fuel industry and climate change.”
She suggested ways that Vassar students can get involved with the campaign, “First of all we would just like people to be aware of this issue and to be discussing it. Part of the whole point of the divestment is to spark dialogues about environmental issues and thus raise awareness about them. Whether or not people want to join us in our campaign efforts we would love it if they took some time to do a little research and read up on divestment, and they can of course come to us if they need help finding resources. Within the campaign there is a wide variety of things that people can do, from coming to our actions to writing articles to coming to meetings with administrators etc.”
DivestVC holds meetings at 9:00p.m. in Rocky 301 every Monday.