On January 27, the Career Center hosted a panel entitled, “Inclusion, Diversity, & Equity at Work: Corporate Culture & Individual Identities at Wells Fargo.” The goal of the event was for Carleton alumni currently employed by Wells Fargo to share their experiences with inclusion, diversity, and equity (IDE) in a corporate setting.
However, panelists and attendees quickly realized the event would not go as anticipated when a group of five Carleton students from the campus chapter of the Sunrise Movement, a national student organization focused on climate justice, joined the Zoom call.
These students proceeded to protest the event by questioning panelists about the Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline, a proposed replacement and expansion of a tar sands oil pipeline stretching across Northern Minnesota. Wells Fargo is one of the top funders of Line 3, providing loans to Enbridge—a Calgary-based Canadian energy transportation company—for its construction.
The panel featured six Carleton alumni who are currently employed by Wells Fargo. According to Rachel Leatham, Associate Director of the Career Center, the purpose of the event was to “explore the various roles at Wells Fargo that can be great fits for Carls based on the personal experiences of the alumni who participated. This event was carefully developed by alumni with diverse identities for BIPOC students at Carleton,” she said.
However, it was this focus on IDE that Sunrise members took issue with given that Line 3 would stretch across lands belonging to the Anishinaabe people. Sunrise describes themselves as “a movement to stop the climate crisis, enact racial and economic equality, and create millions of jobs in the process.”
“A company that funds a pipeline that will be 300 billion dollars in climate damage is not equitable,” said Carleton Sunrise organizer Maya Stovall ’23, one of the five protesters. “There is nothing equitable about breaking treaties, there is nothing equitable about causing climate catastrophe. So we said, we’re going to take direct action.”
It is with this in mind that the Sunrisers joined the panel and began asking questions, in an encounter that quickly grew confrontational and heated. Their questions continued for 45 minutes of the 90 minute panel, after which the protesters left the call.
Career Center Response
After the protest, the five Sunrise students in attendance, in addition to one member who was not present, emailed the Career Center, outlining their intentions and motivations with the hope of starting a productive dialogue.
On Friday, January 29, the Career Center responded by revoking all access to Career Center resources for the students who signed the letter until each protester wrote a formal apology to the panelists and attendees, citing Carleton Community Standards Policy violations. This included revoking access to funding opportunities and Handshake, Carleton’s online job search platform.
“The crux of the issue is two-fold,” Leatham explained. “Students protesting against Wells Fargo’s involvement with Line 3 were disruptive in ways that went well beyond a reasonable amount of protest.”
“Secondly,” she continued, “the password to the event was shared with at least three individuals who appeared to be affiliated with the broader Sunrise movement from outside of Carleton who had not received permission to participate in the call, violating Carleton’s technology policy and reflecting a breach of security and trust.” The Zoom link for the event was accessible only with a Carleton Handshake login.
The Sunrise students argued that the Career Center’s response lacked due process, in violation of Carleton’s own Community Standards. They maintain that the response sets a concerning precedent for how student protests are handled at Carleton.
“Just the lack of due process should be concerning to everyone, whether or not you agree with our activism goals,” said Greta Hardy-Mittell ’23, the student who signed the Sunrise email without having attended the event, and still had her access revoked. “Just the fact that I wasn’t at the event and I got this punishment given to me—that is a problem.”
The Career Center said they punished the six students who claimed responsibility for the protest, and then reinstated Hardy-Mittell’s access at a follow-up meeting.
Carleton’s Community Standards state that when a formal disciplinary complaint is submitted, “The appropriate judicial authority determines whether a violation of college policy has occurred, based on a preponderance of evidence. If a violation is found, sanctions are assigned.” For an informal complaint—including this case, since no formal complaint was filed—the Standards recommend that the issue be handled through “conflict resolution” and “mediation.”
According to Leatham, “The Career Center consulted internally and with others in the college to swiftly address the harm caused by the Sunrise students.”
“Our priority was to convey that this behavior was unacceptable, caused harm, and provide a path towards resolution,” she continued. “Any longer-term processes and conversations would take place in parallel.”
Sunrise protesters reported that they attempted to initiate a restorative justice process, but have not been Supported by the Career Center or the Dean of the College Office in doing so. Stovall said, “If we want to fight this, the college is making it a burden on us.”
She also shared worries about the potential financial consequences of suspending students’ Career Center access. “The big concern is if they were to do this to different students in the future,” she said. “Such a classist punishment is really inequitable.”
The five Sunrise students who attended the event identified themselves as Carsten Finholt ’24, Aashutosha Lele ’23, Natalie Marsh ’21, Maya Stovall ’23 and Ellie Zimmerman ’21. They emphasized that the protest was an individual choice and was not sponsored by the Sunrise chapter on campus.
Debate Over the Harm Caused
One of the alumni panelists, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Carletonian, “While I understand the students’ attempts to voice their frustration, I found their approach distasteful. Although climate change is an important cause to fight, most people cannot have that be the priority when they have family to support and bills to pay.”
“Choosing one’s employer/career based on their morals or passions, instead of the salary or convenience of being close to their family, is an extreme level of privilege that I can only dream of at this moment,” the panelist said.
Stovall said the Sunrise protesters “pressed [the panelists] a little bit, because we don’t feel like students can get a true picture of Wells Fargo at a diversity, inclusion, and equity event without talking about the harm Enbridge is causing.”
Hardy-Mittell said, “I personally apologize to those students that the event did not go as expected. However, I will also point out that Sunrisers did leave after 45 minutes.”
She continued, “We did acknowledge some of the harm that the event caused. For me one of the main issues that I personally had was that it was a group of majority white students interrupting a call that was being attended by majority BIPOC students. That’s one thing we’ve been wrestling with internally in Sunrise to make our further protests more equitable.” Hardy-Mittell added that they are planning to release a message acknowledging the harm caused in the coming weeks.
The Carletonian reached out to all six alumni panelists, but only one returned the request for comment. According to the Career Center’s online description of the event, the panelists were Harry Alappat ’20, Milton Dejesus ’01, Jojo Kuria ’16, Su Kim ’17, Zhiming Zhao ’05 and Derek Fried ’93. The majority of the panelists are people of color.
The Carletonian additionally contacted three students of color who attended the panel—including two students who Sunrise members reported expressed “frustration” during the protest—but these students either declined to comment or did not respond to the request.
On Tuesday, February 16, the remaining five affected students received an email from the Career Center stating that access to Handshake will be restored this Friday for Sunrise participants. The email did not give an explanation for the reversal.
Leatham told the Carletonian that the Career Center moved to restore the students’ access after a month had passed following the event, “with the understanding that the apologies are still outstanding.”
“We had anticipated that the students would quickly act to apologize and participate in a conversation with the Career Center,” Leatham said. When this did not happen, the Career Center opted to restore access the following month, she explained.
“When collective action is taken with a group, we are mindful of the impacts on all individuals,” Leatham said. “We restored access to ensure that no individual was disproportionately harmed by the lack of access. We remain optimistic that the Sunrise members will make amends with the students and alumni impacted by their actions.”
Leatham added that the incident prompted the Career Center to develop a new policy, currently under review, that “conveys our expectations for behavior” at events. She added, “We appreciate the interest in this event and encourage broader conversations to take place related to privilege, access, identity, and vocation.”
When asked if the Career Center was knowledgeable about Wells Fargo’s funding of Enbridge, Leatham declined to answer. However, she did specify, “The event was not sponsored by Wells Fargo, nor was it attended by any human resources or recruitment personnel from Wells Fargo.”
Concerning the Career Center’s decision to host the event, Stovall argued, “This covers up the real environmental destruction and violation of indigenous sovereignty by Wells Fargo, and really, which side is the Career Center on? Is it on the side of students and activists and a just and liveable future, or it on the side of upholding destructive business practices?”
Line 3 is currently under development in Northern Minnesota. It would transport almost a million barrels of tar sands per day from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin, in addition to violating the treaty rights of Anishinaabe peoples and nations in its path. Dozens of banks have provided Enbridge with over $12 billion in loans to fund the pipeline. Wells Fargo is one of five banks serving as a lead agent on key loans.
Correction: Feb. 27, 2020 — this article has been updated from our Feb. 26 print edition to include the names of the alumni panelists as reported by the Career Center’s description of the event. Secondly, the original article incorrectly stated that the Zoom link for the event was sent in a campus-wide email. The Zoom link was only accessible with a Carleton Handshake login.