Time to Lead on Divestment

By Guest Contributor

This weekend, the Middlebury College board of trustees may decide whether or not to divest our endowment of holdings in fossil fuels and arms manufacturing.

This community has engaged in conversations about divestment since September.  Questions have been raised about the potential financial impact of divestment and whether it will be effective in addressing the challenges we face.  These concerns are valid and these conversations have led to productive debate.

While I don’t like to make a habit of trying to scare others into action, we cannot continue having these conversations as though the issues we are discussing can be addressed on a “reasonable” timeline.  If we continue working on our timeline we will end up with a planet that is incompatible with human life.

I have been away from Middlebury this semester.  I spent a short amount of my time in Appalachia, where people’s struggle against the destruction of their land and communities due to mountain top removal, coal mining and hydraulic fracturing feels like a war.  The West Virginians I met were fighting for the right to live their lives.  This sounds like an exaggeration; it is not.

I also met individuals from First Nations communities and indigenous peoples whose rights continue to be disregarded in the interest of extracting and transporting fossil fuels.  If studying history at Middlebury has taught me anything, it’s that the treatment of indigenous peoples in this country has been shameful.  And if my time off has taught me anything, it’s that continuing to allow the fossil fuel industry free reign to “negotiate” over land rights with indigenous peoples is not going to end this systematic silencing and disenfranchisement.

I am sharing these stories because I believe what the board of trustees does here, now, at this week’s board meeting, will demonstrate whether or not Middlebury College is a leader.  We are setting our priorities with the use of our resources.  And we can choose to manage our endowment in a way that creates real change.

We do not know for sure that the divestment tactic will work as it did during South Africa’s apartheid regime, if it will diminish exploitative forces’ ability to harm people and the planet.  However, from all of our conversations, we do know that on our end, the risk is limited.

And we know that leaders, those on the right side of history, act decisively in the name of justice, of what is right.  This community has decided that the exploitation of peoples and the destruction of our planet are wrong.  We believe a statement from the board that aligns our practices with our beliefs is right.

Middlebury College has stated its commitment to being a community and environmental leader.  Board of trustees: it’s time to lead.
Join the Middlebury community for a board of trustees tailgate at 3 p.m. on Friday, with speakers and photos at 4:30 p.m.  Visit http://divestforourfuture.tumblr.com for details.

GRETA NEUBAUER ‘14.5 is from Racine, Wisconsin

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