College Alumni: Time to Make Fossil Fuels History

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Today, Responsible Endowments Coalition is proud to be part of the first-ever Global Divestment Day of Action.  After less than four years, campaigns around the world are now engaging in simultaneous creative action to pressure their colleges, churches, city and state pension funds, and institutions to move their money out of the fossil fuel industry.  This day represents the growing call to dismantle the political and economic stranglehold of the fossil fuel industry. 

Students have been at the forefront of the fossil fuel divestment since its inception and remain a powerful force steering the movement, as evidenced by the growth of Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network and the spread of campaigns to over 400 campuses around the world. Today, students at Middlebury College are staging a tug-of-war between students and fossil fuel industry executives. In New Jersey, Rutgers University students are staging a die-in to demand fossil fuel divestment. All across the United States and across the globe, student groups are mobilizing in response to the global call for fossil fuel divestment.

However, students are not the only ones with a stake in university fossil fuel divestment. Alumni have an integral part to play and are directly implicated in the unethical endowment practices of their alma maters. Colleges and universities prize the size of their endowments, and subsequently value alumni donor pools who contribute to their growth. Every time an alumna or alumnus makes a donation to the general capital fund of their alma mater, that money does not necessarily go to scholarships for needy students or to the budgets of struggling liberal arts departments. That money is often funneled into investments, some of which generate returns from the harmful extraction of fossil fuels or other business practices that put profit over people and planet. 

To alumni who have watched on--unsure of your role or your agency in this time of crisis--we assure you that you are needed and that you are capable of galvanizing change. There are a variety of ways that alumni can engage effectively to increase pressure on campaign targets.  Here are a few ideas:

  1. Get to know student organizers at your alma mater.  They will be able to tell you most about what’s going on with the campaign on-campus and how you can best plug in. These can range from call-in days to alumni meetings with the board.

  2. Leverage your $$. Talk to student organizers about creating an alumni pledge to withhold donations to your alma mater until they commit to divest. Ask if they are using an escrow account as a tactic. If not, let them know about REC’s Responsible Endowments Fund.

  3. Make your voice heard. Publish an op-ed calling for divestment in local or national papers, write letters to the editor responding to oppositional articles about divestment, or call your university's president.  Alums can also serve as a megaphone to highlight student stories, so be sure to collaborate with student organizers. 
  4. Show up and take action.  If you can, participate in on-campus actions.  Take direction from student leaders on what role you should play.  Depending on the context, it may be powerful for alumni to participate in direct action and risk arrest. 

  5. Organize other alumni.  Utilize your network of alumni contacts and listservs to activate more people in support of divestment.  Phone bank for rallies and protests, speak at your reunions on the necessity of divestment, and organize fellow alumni to take action!

Students are gearing up for a spring semester of bold, strategic action and we encourage all alumni to get involved. Alumni support can go a long way in amplifying and legitimating student demands. We will need everyone on board to bring positive social change to our campuses and communities! 

If you are an alum who is supportive of student escalation and ready to take action this spring, sign your name here! If you want further support on how to engage with the divestment campaign at your alma mater or how to take strategic action as an alum, contact the Alumni Team at the Responsible Endowments Coalition! Email alumni@endowmentethics.org.

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