Divest Barnard became a public, officially recognized organization on campus in Spring 2015, however organizers had been scheming since Fall 2014. Prior to our kickoff, fossil fuel divestment at Columbia University was being organized under the group Barnard Columbia Divest. However, given the separate nature of Columbia and Barnard’s endowments, we strategically focused each campaign on our respective campuses. Columbia Divest for Climate Justice has been a great ally and organizing partners in Divest Barnard’s campaign.
Our petition was widely circulated in Spring 2015 and continues to gain signatures everyday. Our platform in the Spring of 2015 was to establish ourselves as much as possible on campus, reaching out to other organizations and to students through grassroots tactics. We tabled, hosted teach-ins, and raised awareness via social media and through outreach events such as Fossil Fools day and Earth Day. Our newly established place on campus also allowed us to meet with President Spar and select members of the Board of Trustees to discuss our concerns and highlight our need for President Spar to advocate for us.
Given that an asset management group called Investure LLC manages our endowment externally, and that our money is pooled in a consortium with 13 other institutions, having personal control over investment choices would be challenging. Consequently, we banded together with the other schools that are managed by Investure in our consortium including Middlebury, Smith, Dickenson and Trinity, completing the Investure Schools’ Coalition. We demanded in the form of a public letter that all of our college presidents meet and release a unified statement on divestment. The presidents met, however President Spar claimed to be unable to give a statement because she is hired by the Board of Trustees, therefore would want to consult them first.
Fall 2015, we knew that President Spar could not speak without the Board, so we amped up the pressure for her to address divestment with the Board of Trustees. We met with her numerous times, met with Investure, and kept getting the same response that it was the Board who made the choices, and that the Board was the client, not us. At the Boards’ retreat in October 2015, we made our voices heard. We bird-dogged them at all their events, were outside the doors throughout the day, and held a speak-out and rally outside of Barnard Hall. Our voices were heard, and soon after Divest Barnard was invited to present to the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees in November.
We continued acquiring grassroots support through presenting at the Seven Sisters Conference about the Seven Sisters Coalition to Divest from fossil fuels, pursued a SGA referendum to be launched and increased student solidarity with the formation of the Barnard Columbia Solidarity Network. President Spar and Chair of the Investment Committee Linda Levinson were extremely helpful and supportive throughout the presentation preparation process. The Board unanimously voted to instate a Presidential Task Force to examine Fossil Fuel Divestment at Barnard in December 2015.
We kicked off the Spring 2016 semester with a panel discussion to introduce the Task Force to the community. Since the launching of the Task Force, Divest Barnard representatives have been meeting with the members (including faculty, administrators and Board members) on a weekly or biweekly basis. The working groups within the Task Force (pros and cons, financial feasibility, moral and ethical argument, and campus sustainability), are chaired by faculty or administrators. Together we will create a report to be presented to the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees in November 2016, and to the full Board in Spring 2017.
We will continue to garner faculty, alumna and student support throughout this process and welcome you to get involved with the campaign!