Looking at high schoolers propelling the Never Again movement and college students fighting for free speech and sexual assault awareness, it's clear that today’s students are activists. We have been taught to think critically and challenge convention. The process of creating change, however, is long and arduous. When putting up a fight with institutions, students will encounter barriers.
An example of a student group fighting for their university to change is Divest Clark. The organization has one simple goal, for Clark University, located in Worcester, MA, to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry. This is something that more than 30 universities and 800 other institutions have already done. After creating a thoroughly investigated research proposal and mobilizing the student body, they submitted their proposal to the Board of Trustees.
On February 26, 2018, the Clark University Board of Trustees made a statement announcing its decision to not divest. It was a disappointing response to a years-long effort by Divest Clark to advocate change through constructive protest. The Board’s rejection of the proposal, however, is being refused by the students with their new campaign, #RejectionDenied, which is a prime example of students fighting the system.
Divest Clark is calling on fellow Clark students to hold the Board accountable for its decision. The organization has publicly denounced the Board’s statement through social media and a banner drop in the school’s library on Wednesday, February 28. On Thursday March 15, Divest Clark will hold a public meeting to discuss how the Clark community will tell the Board: #RejectionDenied.
Divest Clark is passionate about creating a better future. "Our consumption of fossil fuels enables an unsustainable way of life that changes the earth’s climate in such a way that threatens our very own future," says Heather Riesenberg, a junior at Clark University. "We’re not killing our planet—she will be fine. We’re killing a chance to guarantee our own survival. I consider that immoral."
Addressing human rights and human dignity, Ariana Nicholson, a sophomore at Clark University, calls the Board's statement and decision "a slap in the face of the decades of organizing that people of color, youth, women, and frontline communities have been engaging in to protect our communities and decarbonize our world.”
Organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Oxfam have emphasized what researchers have proven: climate change exacerbates the struggles of marginalized communities. According to the World Bank, if no rapid and drastic climate-informed decisions are made, more than 100 million people will be pushed into poverty by 2030.
This is something that the students of Divest Clark are aware of. Mikey Ippolito, a first-year at Clark University, said the Board’s decision “explicitly supports and upholds a globally destructive and white supremacist system that Clark claims it is committed to overturning.”
It is clear that the students believe those with the power to effect change have a moral duty to do so. As Shosh Weiner, a Clark University first-year, says, “Nothing else matters if we don’t have a physical world to stand on.”
When working to get institutions changed, students cannot give up. They must be aware of the different ways in which their very own administration may silence and reject them. They must be prepared for rejection and be able to both plan and adapt. Universities such as Clark preach one thing yet do the other, and it is the duty of its students to fight and make sure the University puts their money where their mouth is, just as groups like Divest Clark are trying to do.
Lead Image Credit: Gari De Ramos