Student Climate Culture was founded in the fall of 2012, to foster a culture of student activism centered on climate change. After the founding, we chose fossil fuel divestment as our first campaign.
Early on, SCC worked to build support for divestment using every method we could think of. We collected a thousand signatures endorsing our proposal within just a few months (We’re still collecting petition signatures, and if you haven’t signed yet, you can do so here.) and hosted rallies and creative demonstrations (check out the older posts on the homepage for photos, videos and details). We made presentations to UVM’s four representative governing bodies: the Student Senate, Faculty Senate, Staff Council, and the Graduate Student Senate. The Student, Graduate Student, and the Faculty Senates all passed resolutions supporting divestment by wide margins, and the Staff Council passed a letter of support for divestment unanimously!
We also worked closely with the Socially Responsible Investment Advisory Council (SRIAC), following the school-sanctioned process to change the endowment's investments (you can learn more here).
As the months went on, we continued to research and refine our proposal, garner support throughout campus, and make the case for divestment in a number of meetings with UVM administrators.
The people that are UVM--the students, the staff, and the faculty--were all happy to learn and talk about the issues surrounding divestment in a serious manner. The faculty union, United Academics, passed a pro-divestment resolution of its own accord and delivered the resolution in a May 2013 meeting before the entire Board of Trustees!
At the end of the day, though, the administration simply wasn’t interested in letting students change the way UVM works. It was clear to us that the administrators weren’t engaging with students at all, sometimes not even listening when we spoke. When SRIAC’s watered-down divestment proposal came before the Board of Trustees’ Investment Subcommittee, the trustees delivered arguments against divestment that ranged from obviously disingenuous to uninformed and incorrect, and actively discouraged students from shedding light on the matter.
They unanimously voted down the divestment proposal in mid-December 2013, when most students were away on break. Frankly, they tried as hard as they could to bury the issue.
After two years of working relentlessly on this issue, we’ve come to the following conclusion:
A. If we try to convince the administration to divest from fossil fuels on their terms, it will never happen. It doesn’t matter how many members of the UVM community endorse the idea. It doesn’t matter how many studies we can deliver that show divestment will not harm the endowment. It doesn’t matter how polite, reasonable, and patient we are. The administration will not divest until they are forced to.
B. The reason for all this is that the administration is more interested in consolidating the power they hold over UVM than anything else. We can demonstrate that fossil fuel divestment is in the administration’s best interests, as it will benefit UVM financially and socially (not to mention benefiting the planet), but this doesn’t matter to them. What matters is that divestment is an idea proposed by the students, and if the administrators want to demand ever-higher salaries, they need to be able to say to the world that all the good ideas were their ideas.
C. Administrators fear that if students can build and wield the power to change UVM just this once, it will open the proverbial floodgates of student activism, and the students of UVM might have a few things to say about their institution's status quo.
What they’re afraid of, in short, is Student Climate Culture’s realizing our goal: having an educated and active student body that is able to make lasting change a reality.
And unfortunately for the administration, that's exactly what we're going to do.