This academic year, there has arguably been no bigger issue on the minds of Middlebury students than divestment. The topic polarizes us at times. Some argue that as an institution with a pledged commitment to environmental and social justice, Middlebury should put its money where its mouth is. Divesting from fossil fuels won’t end their use, but it will take away some leverage from the giant — and environmentally-damaging — fossil fuel industry. Others point to possible disadvantages of divestment, citing the importance of maintaining a stable endowment. And a third argument — that divesting Middlebury’s relatively small endowment from fossil fuel companies and arms manufacturers would have little impact — has also been raised.
To summarize the arguments in this way is to do them an injustice by grossly oversimplifying the issues. The truth is that the issue of divestment is nuanced and complex. However, one thing should be clear: divestment is not an abstract issue.
In fact, divestment has everything to do with Middlebury and its students. Middlebury prides itself on its commitment to environmental issues and on being ahead of the curve. The administration has demonstrated this commitment by building a biomass plant and aiming for carbon neutrality by 2016. Students here go even further. Environmental groups are among the most active on campus. The Sunday Night Group was even the birthplace of the global environmental organization 350.org. The core of the divestment issue is not financial — it is environmental. In fact, divestment may be the future of the environmental movement. And, because the College claims to be environmentally committed, divestment has everything to do with us.
Divestment is no longer just a small movement discussed among limited pockets of students. Although groups such as the Socially Responsible Investment club have been committed to this issue for years, recently divestment has become a concern of the general student population. And while many disagree with the methods they employ, the Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee (DLWC) must be given some credit. Standing on the shoulders of the many students who had been pushing for endowment transparency for years, the DLWC was successful in bringing the issue of divestment to the attention of the general student body this past fall. Groups such as Divest for Our Future, which was one of the sponsors of Sunday night’s “Do the Math” event, have continued working to get more people involved in the issue.
The administration also deserves some credit — they have been responsive, to at least some degree, to student calls for action. The DLWC fake press release was sent out in October and just three months later, the formal process to consider divestment is underway. Tuesday night’s forum, sponsored by the administration, marked the beginning of this process.
And this truly is just the beginning. Divestment is becoming a global issue — and to which that Middlebury, as both an environmentally committed and globally connected school, is intricately tied. Thus our community’s involvement with the issue must grow as well. We hope that the administration will remain open to diverse opinions even after the forums are over.
The responsibility of students is growing as well. Whether one is adamantly for divestment or wholly against it, it is important that we all take advantage of the resources at our disposal to form an opinion. Attend the two additional divestment forums. Read up on 350.org. Talk to someone with whom you disagree. Whatever you do, educate yourself on the issue. Form an opinion. We have the potential to be leaders in a field that is constantly growing in importance.
It is likely that divestment may be the biggest student movement that has taken place in a long time. The movement is no longer at society’s extremities — it is an issue that goes far beyond Middlebury. As such, the conversation can no longer be confined to discussions of the pros and cons of the DLWC’s tactics, to finger-pointing and personal attacks.
Yet even as the movement expands, by virtue of attending an institution as dedicated to the environment as Middlebury, we are integral to the future of divestment. Not everyone has access to the tools we do to educate ourselves on the subject. And not everyone has access to an endowment that can be used as leverage to convey where our true commitments lie. Whatever those commitments may be, it is clear that something big and important is happening. Whether for or against divestment, we are all a part of the debate.