Students Petition for CC Endowment to Divest from Fossil Fuels

By SASHA HART

While Colorado College prides itself on its sustainability efforts, some students think CC could do more to adhere to this focus on sustainability. Three of these students have taken it upon themselves to start a campaign and petition addressing this issue. Charlie Szur ’21, Turner Black ’21, and Zachariah Benevento-Zahner ’21 have initiated a campaign called Fossil Free CC aimed at addressing the college’s continued endowment investment in fossil fuels. They are currently circulating a petition addressed to the Board of Trustees among students to gauge their interest in the campaign. Given the limited success of other similar campaigns, it remains to be seen if this campaign will be able to execute a coherent divestment outcome.

Szur, Black, and Benevento-Zahner said they became interested in this topic after they “learned of peer institutions’ campaigns to move their endowments away from investment in fossil fuels.” In researching CC’s investments, they found that two of the endowment managers that CC holds investments with—Yorktown Group and EIG Energy—were largely invested in fossil fuels. Through their research, they also found that the college seemed to be losing money on these investments as recently as the 2015-2016 tax period.

While an investment’s sub-committee of the Sustainability Council exists, Szur, Black, and Benevento-Zahner felt that their objective was not fully encompassed by the goals of that sub-committee. The creators of the campaign would like the college to manage its entire endowment ethically. The investment sub-committee was created as a way to address the complexities of divestment at the college. Students are involved on the ground level of this committee to help advise and construct goals for dedicated funds that meet environmental, social, and governance criteria for sustainable investments. Ian Johnson, Director of Sustainability, believes this exercise allows students to see the complexities involved in the issue of divestment as opposed  to simply demanding change without fully understanding the many facets of the issue.

Johnson sees the issue of divestment as requiring a more nuanced approach than an all or nothing request. As he notes, since 2012, the school has had a few different iterations of divestment campaigns on campus. However, while they have been successful at drawing attention to the issue and increasing discussion, none have been successful in leading a coherent divestment strategy. Szur, Black, and Benevento-Zahner are hopeful that their campaign will make greater inroads.

As Szur explained, the goal of their campaign is to get CC to “cease new investment in the fossil fuel industry, fully divest from current funds that support fossil fuels, and create a reinvestment committee—a collaborative group of students, faculty, and administrators tasked with researching ecologically and economically responsible investments.” Ultimately, they feel that students should be more included in investment decisions and the college should be more transparent about where money is invested to allow for collaboration on institutional decisions.

Given the challenge of addressing divestment issues, “if these campaigns are to be successful, they will need to find a middle ground that acknowledges the many competing goals of an investment strategy,” said Johnson. Whether that is modeling change before demanding it, or looking for sustainable investment strategies rather than asking for a complete divestment, there is no easy answer to the issue of divestment. For Fossil Free CC, the issues inherent in divestment will need to be addressed moving forward.

For anyone interested in learning more about Fossil Free CC or has ideas they would like to share, they can contact the group’s founders at fossilfreecc@gmail.com or check out the group’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

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