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Student Group Seeks Climate Justice At Boston College

Each week, a group of about 20 students quietly gathers into a room in Higgins Hall. They are not assembling for a class or a club, but instead are preparing for their weekly meeting, addressing ways of promoting climate justice on campus.

The collective of students formerly known as BC Fossil Free (BCFF), founded in early 2013, have undergone an organizational change since their return to campus. Rebranding under the name Climate Justice at Boston College (CJBC), the activist student group is seeking to focus its attention not only on divesting University endowment funds away from fossil fuel-related assets, but also other aspects of climate change issues.

“We realized our goal was much broader than just divestment, and so we decided to change the name to reflect our broader message,” said Ellie Tedeschi, A&S ’16.

Throughout the latest CJBC meeting, members discussed initiatives toward engaging students on campus, promoting climate justice activism among the BC community, and communicating with University administrators on topics surrounding climate change—a matter some members of the unregistered student group have considered a challenge over the past year.

“Divesting is difficult, and moving money in general is difficult and inconvenient, and to do that just because that’s what a group of students said you should do—administrators do not want that to be a precedent,” said Sissi Liu, A&S ’17.

In addition to administrative tension, BCFF had also scheduled to protest a Bank of America campus recruitment and information session last November, during which members distributed flyers to Bank of America representatives and asked questions on their knowledge surrounding the company’s investments in fossil fuel-related holdings.

Since then, the group has also been featured at other campus events, including a Fulton Debate Society and UGBC-sponsored debate on fossil fuel divestment last spring. Proponents of divestment argued that, in part, endowment investments in fossil fuels conflict with the University’s Jesuit ideals, while opponents argued that defunding would lead to a diminished education.

“In a cost-benefit analysis, it sure costs a lot to divest with comparatively little benefit,” said Matthew Alonsozana, then-executive vice president of UGBC and BC ’14, in a Letter to the Editor in The Heights. “There is no forgone moral or pragmatic argument to be made. Instead, as people read deeper into the issue, they recognize that the roadblocks are imposed not by the administration but by reality.”

With the organization’s name change also comes a renewed look toward University recognition as an officially registered student club on campus. According to Tedeschi, University administrators have twice denied CJBC club status, since the organization includes graduate students—an infringement of University policies regarding registered student organizations (RSOs).

Those who gather each week to discuss the promotion of climate change awareness, though, prefer to identify as part of a movement rather than a club, according to Tedeschi.

“We like to think of ourselves as a passionate movement of students that care, and we don’t care that we’re not a club, we’re just trying to make a difference no matter what,” Tedeschi said.

“I think we’re the BC chapter of a huge movement that’s advocating for justice, and specifically with climate change, because we think climate change is the root of all these problems,” Liu said.

In a push to foster greater dialogue on climate justice at BC, the group is also planning to host a seven-hour education and training event this Sunday entitled Building the Movement for a Just and Stable World, taking place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Higgins 235. The event is slated to include talks on both the financial and environmental perspectives on divestment, and is primarily designed as a training seminar for members to be able to speak to the most knowledgeable extent on behalf of the group.

“We didn’t have a mechanism of training people and bringing new [members] up to speed to be leading the club as much as [original BCFF members] are,” Liu said. “So, we’ve been trying to figure out how to bring in new people and make sure they understand that they are part of a movement, and are confident and willing to speak on the subject.”

For now, the ensemble of undergraduates, graduate students, and BC alumni that compromise CJBC aims to develop its mission on campus, and will continue to expand its presence on campus despite its unofficial status at BC, according to Liu.

“I think we realized that we want people to know that this is not just about, ‘saving the environment’ or ‘tree-hugger people,’” she said. “Climate change is not just an environmental issue, it’s a social issue—a social justice problem, and we just want to reflect that more in our name.”

Photo Courtesy of the Office of Marketing Communications

November 6, 2014