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Divestment activists target info session, tours

Published: Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 02:04

 

In the wake of backlash over a video posted online of students advocating for the university to divest from fossil fuel companies in an information session for prospective students last week, the protestors say said their aim was to catch the administration’s attention and spread their message to prospective students. 

The students, members of Tufts Divest For Our Future who attended the info session to pose as prospective students asking questions of an Office of Undergraduate Admissions officer about the university’s divestment policy, have faced criticism from fellow students and observers off the Hill that their approach was inappropriate. 

“The goal …was to send a message to the administration that Tufts is invested in the fossil fuel industry and they shouldn’t claim to prospective students that Tufts is a leader in sustainability,” Tufts Divest co-founder Dan Jubelirer said.

In the video, which has circulated online after Jubelirer posted it on YouTube Thursday, he and two other Tufts Divest members press Naiara Souto, the Admissions officer leading the session, with repeated questions about the university’s stance on divestment. One parent of a prospective student at the meeting repeatedly asked the students to leave before telling them, “Enough,…stop wasting our time,” and threatening, “I’m going to get security if you don’t shut the hell up.”

Jubelirer removed the video from YouTube after immediate student backlash, but a copy of the video was subsequently posted on LiveLeak.com, where it has reached more than 5,000 views. Tufts students and commenters have criticized the activists’ actions as deterring the prospective students from applying to Tufts and disrespecting the admissions counselor who led the information session.

According to Jubelirer, the video was originally made for private use by Tufts Divest members before an unidentified member posted it on the group’s public Facebook page.

Tufts Divest aimed to target the administration, the Board of Trustees and University President Anthony Monaco with its demonstration, Jubelirer said. 

“We were really hoping that this would reach the Tufts decision-makers by bringing it up at these events where Tufts is talking about what it cared about,” he said. 

The group instead provoked an adverse reaction from the audience of prospective students and parents. 

“We definitely did not expect the crowd to get that hostile and that aggressive, and we didn’t expect the video to upset the student body,” Tufts Divest member Kit Collins, a sophomore, said. “I think if the action would have gone as planned, there wouldn’t have been such an aggressive response from the audience and ... from the student body.”

“We were hoping to pose a rhetorical question about Tufts’ fossil fuel investments and give a brief explanation to the audience,” Tufts Divest member Sophia Goodfriend, a freshman, said.

Goodfriend said as a member of the Tufts Divest, she felt uncomfortable with the way the actions were carried out.

“I think that we were wrong,” she said. “Our message was not meant to be directed as antagonistic towards prospective parents and students, nor towards the leader of the information session.”

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Lee Coffin said in an email to the Daily that Admissions-run information sessions are meant to give prospective students access to information about the university and that many families travel from far away to spend only a short time on campus.

“Our admissions information sessions are not well-suited venues for a discussion about Tufts’ investment policies,” Coffin said, adding that feedback from families present at the session indicated that they felt that Souto had handled the interruption with composure. 

  “Most in attendance were juniors in high school,” Coffin said. “I do not expect the episode to have any lasting impact on our admissions outcomes.”

Members of Tufts Divest have also posed as prospective students on official Admissions tours, according to tour guide Anthony Lombardi. Lombardi said that one Tufts Divest group followed his tour and then asked him a question about Tufts’ investment in fossil fuels. He allowed the student speak for a few minutes, he explained, and then told the tour group that the demonstration was an example of activism on campus.

“It didn’t seem like it was too intrusive into the tour itself, it was just very unexpected,” Lombardi, a junior, said.

He added that the Admissions office sent an email to tour guides noting instances of Tufts Divest members interrupting various tours.

According to Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler, the administration has been willing to discuss with students how the university can deal with the problem of climate change.

“Senior administrators as well as the [Office of the] Trustees’ Administration and Finance Committee and Investment Committee have welcomed the opportunity to hear from students on this subject in forums that lend themselves to thoughtful discussion,” Thurler told the Daily in an email.

She explained that Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell is currently exploring the possibility of creating a working group made up of students, administration, faculty and trustees who further address these issues.

Goodfriend said Tufts Divest will continue to encourage the community to protest fossil fuel investment and become involved in the activism.

“We are going to engage with the Tufts community at large in a more broad way to keep encouraging people who don’t know as much about [Tufts] Divest or want to hear more to come to our weekly meetings so that they can share their opinions,” she said. “We’re a very open group and we want to hear constructive criticism and viewpoints.”

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