On Thursday, February 26, Fossil Free Yale, the student-run fossil fuel divestment campaign, publicly demonstrated to address a Yale Corporation meeting thought to be occurring this week at an unknown location and date. The group called upon the governing body to improve their transparency and accountability to the student body. Beginning at 1:00 PM, students stood together on Beinecke Plaza holding two banners, one asking “Who is the Yale Corporation?” and the other outlining five silhouettes, symbolizing members of the Corporation. Phrases inside the silhouettes charged the corporation with “ignoring student voice,” “putting profit over people,” “risking our futures,” “denying dialogue,” and “investing in climate injustice.”
The action criticizing the corporation sought to bring attention to the divide between its actions and the values of the Yale community. The group pointed to the Yale Corporation’s lack of transparency, its dismissal of student voices, and its willingness to put short term profit over countless lives at risk through morally impermissible investments in the fossil fuel industry and climate change.
Members say that the lack of transparency or public engagement surrounding the divestment decision is emblematic of a larger devaluation of student voice in official decision-making. In fall 2014, the corporation rejected Fossil Free Yale’s divestment proposal, despite a student referendum in which 83% of students supported divestment. The committee of the Yale Corporation charged with making the decision never once communicated with the divestment campaign, and denied any attempts by the group to meet. Fossil Free Yale is now demanding improved channels of student and faculty communication with the Yale Corporation, and asserts that student voice should be valued in the corporation’s decisions.
The divestment campaign’s concerns are mirrored by other campus groups who find themselves similarly frustrated with a lack of administrative engagement, including those pushing for conversations on financial aid, mental health, and cultural center reform.
Fossil Free Yale’s actions also come within the context of a rapidly growing call for divestment in New England and around the world as part of a global movement for climate justice. With hundreds of campaigns worldwide, institutions from the New School to the Rockefeller Foundation have collectively divested over $50bn from the fossil fuel industry.