Fossil Free Yale (FFY) held a Speak Out action with the prompt: “What would you say to the Yale Corporation?” on Friday, February 19th beginning at 1:00 in Beinecke plaza. The action was planned in response to the new that the Yale Corporation met this past weekend. Details of the meeting’s purpose, length, and location have not been disclosed, and no students or faculty representing Fossil Free Yale or any other student groups were allowed to attend.
On Friday, 50 students gathered to share their stories and thoughts about fossil fuel divestment and climate justice, as well as their relationship to Yale’s power structure. With regards to climate injustice, many spoke out about the benefits of divestment and the ability of Yale, as a renowned university, to impactfully stigmatize injustices of the fossil fuel industry. Some shared stories about challenges specific communities have faced due to climate injustice. With respect to the power structure of Yale, many mentioned the lack of transparency in decision making processes and the lack of response to student campaigns. Students spoke about the campaign to change the name of Calhoun College to Thompson College, the organizing last semester of Next Yale, and the ongoing effort to reduce or eliminate the Student Income Contribution. The event made space for students to share these stories, as well as to communicate their positive visions for the Yale campus and society as a whole.
Students made these statements in a big circle, which included a row of four chairs occupied by empty suits, meant to represent the Yale Corporation’s absence and lack of engagement with students. The empty suits also symbolized administrators’ (such as those on the ACIR) unwillingness to push the boundaries of their formal roles.
Before and during the action, students wrote their positive visions for Yale and how they felt personally connected to the divestment movement on bright orange ribbons. These ribbons were read to the crowd and collected on a string, to create an art piece that encourages the empowerment of student voice.
FFY was inspired to pursue this issue by challenges they have encountered in trying to engage the Corporation in discussions about divestment. They met with the ACIR for the eighth time this spring semester, and presented a third version of their proposal. FFY requested that the ACIR issue a public statement in support of divestment, pass the proposal onto the Corporation, and that the Corporation either meet with members of FFY, or allow a student or faculty member to observe their meeting. Nevertheless, FFY has felt it cannot progress towards divestment through these administrative channels. They have been redirected to only discuss their requests with groups who cannot make the decisions, and their dissatisfaction was reinforced when the Corporation met last weekend without giving any information how the meeting was arranged or what was decided. The Speak Out action would divert from administrative channels to empower the Yale divestment movement with student support. It was also meant to inspire students across campus to challenge the way that Yale’s decision making and administrative power is consolidated in a corporate structure that lacks transparency.