Swarthmore students in third week of sit-in for fossil-fuel divestment

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     Freshman education major, Josh Medel, has his picture taken by alumnae Anjali Cadambi for social media. (Emily Cohen/for NewsWorks)

    Freshman education major, Josh Medel, has his picture taken by alumnae Anjali Cadambi for social media. (Emily Cohen/for NewsWorks)

    Swarthmore College students are in their third week of a sit-in to demand their school sell its stocks in coal, oil and gas companies.

    About 150 people have taken shifts sitting in or camping out in a hallway outside the college’s finance office, which is cluttered with sleeping bags, pillows and a giant plastic bin full of food.

    “We’ve had such an outpouring of support from community and alums that at one point we had 15 to 20 pizza backlogged in various refrigerators in the building,” said Swarthmore freshman Annie Zhao.

    Swarthmore’s interim president Constance Cain Hungerford issued a statement the first day of the sit-in that the Board of Managers had already planned on discussing divestment at its May meeting.

    Senior Guido Girgenti said the demonstrators want a guarantee that that discussion will be more than perfunctory.

    “We will feel ready to end the sit-in when we have assurance that the discussions at the May board meeting and leading up to the May board meeting will be a serious engagement with proposals for divestment,” Girgenti said.

    The Board of Managers decided not to divest two years ago because the move could cost the school’s endowment between $12 and 14 million a year, according to board chair Gil Kemp.  

    “Those many millions of dollars would, among other things, impact severely our ability to provide need-blind admission, which is absolutely critical to our mission,” Kemp said.

    Kemp said that financial picture would have to change before the board would reverse its decision. Swarthmore’s endowment was valued at $1.9 billion last year.

    “Reducing our carbon footprint is a more effective way of dealing with this very real issue of climate change and global warming,” said Kemp, citing a December commitment of $12 million to make a new campus building carbon-neutral. 

    Students at Swarthmore were among the first in the nation to push their leadership to sell investments in coal, oil and gas companies as a way to stigmatize the industry and combat climate change.

    The movement scored a big victory this week when Syracuse University announced its intention to divest, making it the college with the biggest endowment to do so.

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