Correction: A previous version of this article stated alumni Divest efforts met with the Board of Trustees to discuss divestment when they had in fact met with the chair of the Investment Committee of the College, not the Board of Trustees.
On October 4, student organization Divest Carleton published a video on their Instagram page titled ‘Honest Carleton College Ad – Divest edition.’ The five minute video presented a satirical message from a fictional “proud member of the Board of Trustees.” A Divest member donned a suit as they played the role of Samantha Pearl, a “hardworking American woman who made [her] fortune hunting dolphins and turning them into coats.”
The video continued as a pointed ad for Carleton, with Pearl, stating that “Carleton is a humble, rural, small town billion dollar private business enterprise dedicated to serving the needs of the elite — I mean — the needs of everyone.” As Pearl speaks, protesting students in the background are taken away by other students acting as security personnel.
Pearl addresses the college’s $1.19 billion endowment, stating that as a trustee, her job is to “grow the endowment by any means necessary. [The Board of Trustees] will literally let you die for profit…”
“Right now, almost $50 million of Carleton’s endowment sits in fossil fuels,” says Stovall, followed by a montage of climate-related consequences and crises. “In other words, we are actively funding the destruction of our planet. Millions of species lost, acres of forest destroyed, countless people dead from extreme weather events….Worried an academic institution shouldn’t be investing its money in evil extractive industries? I literally don’t have to listen to you.”
The provocative video discussed the ongoing Board of Trustees meeting this weekend, digging at the “thousands of miles” the trustees travel for these meetings and the fact that “unlike your local, state and federal representatives, [trustees] elect [themselves].” At the time of publishing, the video has almost 11,000 views, more than five times Carleton’s student body.
In addition to the video, the organization put up posters and another video calling out individual trustee members Herbert Fritch, Catherine Gunsberry and Trace McCreary for behavior deemed unethical by the group. The physical material distributed around campus was taken down by the College.
An additional video mentioning trustees by name was removed from the Divest Carleton Instagram page by members of the organization after receiving a response email from President Allison Byerly.
Byerly’s email was sent on October 15 to the students spearheading the Divest efforts. It read: “I know that you remain focused on the College’s consideration of divestment from fossil fuels. As I reported in May, the Board had a productive discussion of divestment at their May meeting, their first in many years, a process that was greatly aided by the conversations we undertook over the preceding months with your group, with CRIC, and with the alumni Divest Carleton group.”
Byerly further stated that although she respects “debate, protest and satire as important tools for activism,” she feels disappointed at the student organization’s ‘tactics’ of targeting individual board members. “Criticizing and even satirizing the Board as a collective entity is one thing. Circulating posters and videos targeting and disparaging an individual trustee by name is another. I feel sure you would not tolerate seeing a fellow student, or a faculty or staff member, publicly targeted in this way. Members of the Board of Trustees are also members of our community and deserve the same basic respect you would accord others at Carleton.”
Four days later, students pushing for divestment replied to the president’s email, stating: “We recognize the tension and frustration this has caused. The climate crisis continues to threaten our lives, burning down and flooding homes across the country. Our peer institutions have acknowledged this and are continuing to divest while Carleton remains behind, jeopardizing its place as an environmental leader.”
It was especially frustrating for these students to see that divestment is not an agenda item in this weekend’s meeting. Subsequently, Divest students invited President Byerly to meet in person ahead of the trustee meeting. In the meeting, Eva Hadjiyanis ’23 reports Byerly referred to the state of the economy to explain why divestment was not in the October agenda.
Continuing their campaign, Divest Carleton is organizing a series of events protesting the inaction of the Board to commit to divestment. Beginning Thursday, October 27, students set up tents, sleeping bags and hammocks in the Weitz Center for Creativity, where the Board meets. The intent, as stated on Divest Carleton’s social media, is to occupy the Weitz, “refusing to leave in a way that is hard to ignore.” Students planned numerous events, including workshops, marches and open mics to take place throughout the weekend.
It’s important to keep perspective. We are killing the planet. Greenhouse gases just reached a new record high. How can the Board continue to appear so ignorant and removed? Do they think their wealth protects them? (It doesn’t.) I want the Carleton Board, and its president, to acknowledge their role and responsibility in aiding and abetting climate catastrophe. They have the choice to divest from the corporations that are killing the planet, and actively choose not to. The board hires the president, so she doesn’t stand up to them because she doesn’t want to lose her job. Meanwhile we’re losing the planet. This is an emergency and not a time to express disappointment that you don’t think climate warriors are doing things correctly. Instead, acknowledge your own role, and how you benefit from the status quo.