Op-ed submitted by Lo-Yuan Chou ’15, Damella Dotan ’15, Benjamin Ellentuck ’14, Marcus Ford ’15, Christopher Geissler ’13, Joshua Gregory ’15, Porsché Poole ’14, and Naia Poyer ’14, majors and minors in the Department of Religion
A variety of important issues have recently dominated our campus discourse, but between the challenges we face as a community and the impending exams we will soon face as individuals, broader-scale problems remain. In particular, certain fossil fuel companies continue extremely destructive practices such as shale-gas fracking in an industry that inherently damages the ecology of our planet through increasing concentrations of greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. We, the undersigned students of the Department of Religion, strongly support the efforts of Swarthmore Mountain Justice and urge Swarthmore College to divest from the sixteen companies they highlight. Their proposal is at the heart of the core mission of the College, to provide a high-quality, affordable education to its students, and offers an important opportunity to express our values in a meaningful way. To begin to divest would require a complete and thorough analysis of the impact such action would have on the endowment and the College’s budget, an analysis which is beyond the purpose of this article.
Through the lens of religion, we have studied a wide variety of social movements and seen how they galvanize. From the American Civil Rights Movement to Indian Independence, from environmental stewardship to the abolition of slavery, major structural changes are possible when large numbers of people come together to exert pressure. As we see it, Swarthmore College is in a position to lend its support to the issue of fossil-fuel divestment, which we see as a rallying point for a set of critically important and related issues, from particular extraction techniques that wreak havoc on a regional scale, to the rise in carbon levels in our atmosphere, which affects all life on our planet. If we divest, we will contribute to a movement currently gaining momentum across college and university campuses that is part of a much larger national and international push against our addiction to fossil fuels and the companies that supply them.
Aside from the role we can play as part of a movement, however, we still believe it is necessary for Swarthmore to do what it can to divest from these companies. An apocryphal story has it that William Penn, a young English nobleman and Quaker convert, once asked George Fox, a founding visionary behind the Society of Friends, whether or not it was acceptable for him to continue to wear his sword as a Quaker. Fox is said to have responded, “Wear it as long as you can.” We see our position with regards to fossil fuel companies in a similar light: knowing the many terrible things these investments stand for, it is unconscionable for us to continue to associate our name, that of Swarthmore College, with these corporations. Where we invest reflects on our values, and it is plainly obvious that the actions of the sixteen corporations Mountain Justice lists place them firmly at odds with the values of the community that is Swarthmore College. We urge all members of the College community to support Mountain Justice’s divestment campaign, and we are hopeful that our leaders will join us soon.