After an outright rejection by the Board of Trustees last spring, the Student Divestment Committee (SDC) has turned to public art, or graffiti, to get their point across. SDC is a student organization whose aim it is to convince the Board of Trustees to remove, or divest, the school’s assets from fossil fuels.
The weekend before last, several members of the Divestment Club took to covering surfaces all around campus with washable paint, blanketing the school with pro-divestment slogans. The next morning some of the graffiti was already gone, and by the time the Board (the target of the paint) was on campus, only faint remnants of the messages could be seen. The writing was mainly on and around Armstrong Hall, next to a banner for divestment that boasted over 100 handprints of students who support the movement.
“It’s kind of like a Divestment 2.0,” said Alex Suber, junior and co-founder of the SDC. The Committee took actions on the grounds of free speech, hoping that their message would come across without the wrong people having to clean up after them.
“We all did feel a little guilty that someone else was going to have to clean this up,” said Suber. “While we were doing it, Campus Safety approached us, and I just told him what we were doing and that it was washable, and literally the guy just looked at it for a second, shrugged, said ‘freedom of speech,’ and walked away.”
In terms of reactions to the paintings, SDC is not sure how their actions went over with the Board. “We heard that there was chatter amongst the board about our actions, but we have not heard anything really about it,” said Jackson Foster, a member of the SDC. However, there was a sense that the student body was in support of the graffiti.
On Tuesday, the SDC had a meeting with Cesar Cervantes, Assistant Dean of Students, about their thought-provoking graffiti. “We discussed with Cesar Cervantes whether this was the right avenue to get our message across,” said Foster. “While we are not being punished, we opened up a really opportunistic avenue within the administration so we are going to plan some events that will be supported and known by administration before we do them.”
The SDC attempted to convince the Board to divest from fossil fuels through a 24-page proposal last spring, but received a firm no. “It was frustrating to put so much work into a 24-page, single-spaced proposal to the board and their response was 199 words,” said Suber. “We decided that the tactic of research and proposal was not only time consuming and isolating from the student body, but also ineffective and pretty boring for the amount of energy we were putting into it.”
The SDC is now focused on revamping their efforts toward garnering student support.
“The group is still going strong,” said Suber. “We’re focused on reassessing how we frame the debate about Divestment, what questions we need to ask, and particularly the tactics we need to pursue in the future to reach our goals.”
The SDC tried to set up a meeting with the Board during their most recent visit, but they were told a couple of weeks before their visit that they would not be able to have a meeting. “That was a little bit of a downer, and because we didn’t get to sit down and talk to them, we decided to try and communicate with them in a different way, which was through an act of public art,” said Foster.
“We were going to talk to them about how we have been engaging the student body, faculty, staff, and administration about divestment,” said Foster. “Obviously, the board lives all over the country and the proposal last spring let them know that we were active, but otherwise they would have no real way of knowing.”
“The last time we met with them was over a year ago, and this is something that is really important to the student body. I think we should be getting more recognition,” said Foster.