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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, June 21, 2024

Student protestors occupy president's office, demand divestment

4/22/15 – Medford/Somerville, MA – Protesters debrief during the Tufts Climate Action sit in of Ballou Hall on Wednesday, Apr. 22, 2015.

This morning, a group of 33 students, mostly members of Tufts Climate Action (TCA), entered Ballou Hall to demand that the university completely divest from fossil fuels over the next five years.

Sophomores Brian McGough and Shana Gallagher spoke to the Daily about the sit-in as spokespeople for TCA.

According to Gallagher, the campaign to divest has been going on for the past three years and has included a student referendum, a Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate vote, a faculty petition and alumni petition.

“We think it’s wrong for our school to be funding the climate crisis and destruction of the environment and communities around the world, and so we are just hoping to get commitments from our school to move forward on divestment,” she said.

This action is part of a series of movements called the “month of escalation,” during which students throughout the country have been pushing for their schools to divest, McGough said. Student activists at universities in the Northeast and around the country, including Swarthmore College and recently Harvard University, have staged sit-ins calling for fossil fuel divestment that have lasted several days or longer.

McGough stressed that even after the sit-in ends, TCA will continue to pressure the administration to divest from fossil fuel corporations.

“Our pressure on the administration doesn’t end with the sit in," McGough said. "We’re not going anywhere, so we’re going to get what we want and we’re going to continue to pressure the administration until they divest."

Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell said that while the university was open to the possibility of investing in other, more sustainable options, it is not financially feasible to do it at this time.

“It would really change the way we invest significantly if we were to go to a fossil-free policy for our endowment,” Campbell said. 

Gallagher is confident the university is capable of divestment, pointing to other organizations such as universities, churches, corporations and cities that have successfully done so. 

Gallagher would like to see the university contact other schools that have divested and work with Cambridge Associates, an investment group that handles part of Tufts’ endowment and that has offered its clients help to divest from fossil fuels.

According to Campbell, a working group was put together last year to investigate and extensively research the repercussions of divestment.

“If we did it now it would have a negative impact financially on the returns that our endowment could earn, and we didn’t feel that financially we should take that risk,” she said.

Gallagher disagreed, saying the university has depended on this argument to shield its actions.

“We know we can divest from fossil fuels without putting our endowment at risk," Gallagher said. "That working group report that they came up with was very much, again, something that ‘they’ came up with."

Gallagher said that even if changing the university’s investment strategy is risky, the benefits of divestment outweigh that chance.

“Even if there were some slight [financial] risk involved, the moral implications of what we are funding with our dollars that we invest in Tufts and Tufts is then investing again in this industry that pays millions of dollars to spread misinformation ... is unacceptable,” she said.

Campbell pointed to other ways the university has worked toward sustainability, such as the new cogeneration plant under construction, the sustainability council chaired by the president, the sustainability fund and the large-scale solar project happening on the Grafton campus, among other efforts. She said she believes these tactics are more effective than divestment in fighting climate change.

“We’re very respectful and aligned with the students’ concern about climate change and the importance of our world doing something about that, and I think that Tufts has behaved very responsibly,” she said.

McGough suggested that these efforts were an attempt to “greenwash” the university while it continues to place investments in unsustainable companies.

“More than that, speaking specifically to divestment as the most important tactic ... part of creating a just university is, yes, solar is important, yes, the sustainability fund is important, but you can’t have these things without also pulling your investments from the very companies that these technologies and these funds are working against,” he said.

Gallagher concluded by reaffirming the students’ determination to pressure Tufts to divest from fossil fuel corporations. 

“I think students around the world and around the country ... would conclude that there’s nothing more that we can be doing, that would have a bigger impact, than divestment,” Gallagher said. "That’s why as great as the other initiatives are, they’re not enough, and we’re going to stay here until we get divestment.”

Later in the day, students from the Prison Divestment Coalition and TCA held a rally outside Ballou Hall in support of the sit-in under the title "Injustice Is Not an Investment." Demonstrators identified themselves as all part of the fight against the corporatization of Tufts and made calls against university greenwashing and janitor cuts while circling the building and chanting slogans in support of divestment.

Inside Ballou Hall,Campbell told protestors that no additional students may join the sit-in inside the hall, and students who leave the building will not be allowed to re-enter.

Approximately an hour into the sit-in, Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon and Dean of Undergraduate and Graduate Students John Barker distributed a memo to the students, according to first-year sit-in participant Aidan McCuan.In a copy of this memo obtained by the Daily, McMahon and Judicial Affairs Officer Mickey Toogood warned the students not to violate the university's Gatherings, Demonstrations, Protests and Disturbances Policy, which “specifically prohibits […] unauthorized entry into a non-public area [or] a private office” as well as “failure to identify oneself when asked by a university official.”

In a written statement, McCuan said the memo was accompanied by a request for all the demonstrators to write their names and student ID numbers to be returned to McMahon. After the protesters discussed the matter, McCuan said they decided not to follow the request.

“We declined this request under the impression that this could result in targeting us after or before the sit-in," McCuan said.

Instead of submitting a list of names, the protesters gave McMahon the names of senior Evan Bell and first-year Claire Chen, two organizers of the sit-in, as well as that of senior Lila Kohrman-Glaser, the police correspondent for the action.

“Although the Dean assured us there would be no such targeting we are skeptical of the truth in this statement," McCuan said, speaking on behalf of all the demonstrators.

McCuan said that he is willing to face disciplinary action should the administration choose to pursue it. “This is important," he said.

No university official responded to requests for comment by the time of this article's publication.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated that Brian McGough and Shana Gallagher spearheaded TCA's sit-in. In fact, McGough and Gallagher served as spokespeople for the sit-in on behalf of TCA. The Daily apologizes for this error.

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