For several months, we as members of the Sunrise Movement, along with other climate justice and Indigenous groups, have led sustained actions against Wells Fargo because of their investment in Enbridge, the company building the Line 3 pipeline. When the Career Center hosted an event titled “Inclusion, Diversity, & Equity at Work: Corporate Culture & Individual Identities at Wells Fargo” on January 27, we knew we had to speak up. In response to our protest, the Career Center has blocked our access to all career resources, including internship funding.
This punishment is inequitable and illegitimate, in that it disproportionately affects students on financial aid and was executed without procedure in violation of Carleton standards.
Line 3 is a tar sands pipeline, currently under construction, that will stretch across northern Minnesota. The carbon dioxide emissions from extraction and transportation of tar sands, a heavy type of crude oil, through Line 3 each year is equivalent to that of 50 coal plants. Additionally, Line 3 will irreparably destroy the delicate waterways and wild rice beds held sacred by the Indigenous nations whose treaty-protected land is being violated for construction.
Wells Fargo is one of five “lead agents” that lend money to Enbridge to complete the pipeline. We know that claims of promoting “equity” and “diversity” in any company that profits from the destruction of Indigenous treaty land are empty.
At the Career Center’s event, we demanded transparency from the alumni-employees representing Wells Fargo, urged for divestment from the pipeline and made Wells Fargo’s despicable investment and business practices clearly known to everyone on the call. Our goal was not to shame anyone for participating, but rather to disrupt Wells Fargo’s recruiting efforts, especially when based on inclusion, diversity, and equity (IDE), and to pressure Carleton alumni working at Wells Fargo to bring the issue up in their workplace.
In a discussion about equity, oppressive business practices must be the headline, not a footnote. Our protest effectively changed the conversation to adequately address just how oppressive Wells Fargo’s investments in Line 3 are to Indigenous communities and our planet.
We knew that our protest was a bold and controversial step, so we reached out to the Career Center and all the students who attended following the event to clarify our motivations and encourage further dialogue. The Career Center responded on Friday, January 29, punishing the students who had written the email by blocking access to Career Center resources until each had individually written a public apology, approved by Career Center, to the panelists and the student attendees. Our Handshake accounts have been shut down and we are blocked from Career Center services and funding. We do not intend to apologize on these terms.
This restriction of resources violates the official complaints process as laid out in the Carleton Community Standards, which states that, in the absence of a formal complaint, which would require an investigation by the Dean of Students’ Office, a meeting between both parties must occur before a punishment is administered.
The actions of the administration model how they respond when groups speak out in ways they deem unacceptable—by deploying the full force of institutional power to silence and intimidate us, without regard for equity or for Community Standards. Our treatment has ramifications for all future protests at Carleton. We recognize that the students protesting were a predominantly white group interrupting an event aimed at and attended by BIPOC students and panelists. Two of the students present did express frustration in the moment at how the event played out.
However, after the first 45 of 90 scheduled minutes, the Sunrise-affiliated students left the call and allowed the panel to proceed as planned. We maintain that without our protest, the issue of Line 3 would not have been given the attention it demands in the discussion, and that attendees would have received a woefully incomplete view of the state of IDE at Wells Fargo.
Our action was a preliminary attempt at political organizing in a novel medium. We acknowledge that our organization has space to grow and do better, and we are reflecting and receiving feedback on how best to do that. Future demonstrations will be more effective and responsible.
This is a call for transformative justice. Such a call has no legitimacy without all parties involved committing to introspection, reflection, and change. The Career Center must reflect on how the events they hold can better help Carls pursue careers in which they can influence their own employers and find financial success. Just as importantly, they must reform their procedures for doling out punishment to students to align with College standards and to be more equitable in their practices.
Aashutosha Lele, Carsten Finholt, Ellie Zimmerman, Greta Hardy-Mittell, Maya Stovall, and Natalie Marsh, members of Sunrise Carleton
Correction: Feb. 27, 2020 — the original version of this opinion piece submitted to the Carletonian misstated the name of the event. In consultation with the writers, the Carletonian has corrected this information.