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Climate Justice Holds Vigil At President’s Office, Urges BC To Divest From Fossil Fuels

“We are going to conduct an intervention,” yelled Alyssa Florack, A&S ’17. In her background stood approximately 45 people, holding signs urging Boston College to divest in fossil fuels.

Friday afternoon, a group of students participated in a Valentine’s Day-themed rally and vigil organized by Climate Justice at Boston College (CJBC). The rally started at 3 p.m. in O’Neill Plaza. From there, participants walked across Stokes Lawn, up onto College Rd., and finally reached the office of University President William P. Leahy S.J. on Mayflower Rd. While walking, participants sang environment-themed songs to the tune of popular music. Once the group reached Father Leahy’s office, where three Boston College Police Department cars were parked, one member of CJBC, Erin Sutton, A&S ’16, read a prayer.

“We hope that in the near future Fr. Leahy and the BC Board of Trustees will take ownership of the Jesuit ideals which they represent,” she said. “Though the consequences of the fossil fuel industry hold over us is frustrating, we are here today because we have faith in a just, liveable future, and because we love one another enough to fight to make it happen.”

As they walked, sang, and chanted, participants held up posters emblazoned with messages on divestment. “Break up with fossil fuels,” and “It’s not me, it’s you,” they read.

The event, which was not registered with the administration, was meant to encourage the University to reconsider its stance on divestment. Richard DeCapua, associate dean for Student Conduct, was present at the beginning of the rally. He urged students to walk carefully on the slippery sidewalks and be safe.

“If you are all here, you’re aware that climate change is the worst,” Florack said prior to the rally. “So now in the spirit of a healthy Valentine’s Day we are conducting an intervention … to help BC know that it needs to stand for justice. BC needs to stand for its students.”

In response to the event, University spokesman Jack Dunn said BC’s position is that the endowment exists to provide revenue for University initiatives and to serve its academics. He noted that it is not in place to serve any particular social justice mission.

“It is precisely because our endowment enables us to support financial aid, to support the academic programs that sustain the University, to support the student formation initiatives that make BC so distinctive, that we as an institution do not want to see it used as a political wedge,” he said.

Robert Ryan, BC ’66, was one of the few adults amid the mass of rallying students. He found out about CJBC last October, when he attended a talk by environmentalist Bill McKibben hosted by the Lowell Humanities Series. He thinks environmental problems are the largest issue facing people today, and that change at an institutional level will need to begin with a small group of people.

“I think it’s just very hard to shake people up,” he said. “They haven’t gotten the results they wanted after a year, but they’re still staying with it, and hopefully the numbers will get big enough … I’m a supporter and I try to do what I can.”

CJBC changed its name from BC Fossil Free this past year. Member of the groups say the name change was partially in response to the University putting pressure on the organization because it is not registered. However, this name change was also meant to represent a shift in the group’s goals, according to those in the group. Bobby Wengronowitz, a member of CJBC and GA&S ’19, said divestment is just one piece of their goals. Wengronowitz has been active with the group since its inception.

Members of CJBC compared their leadership structure to that of the Occupy Wall Street. The organization operates on a horizontal power structure, with no singular head.

“I think Climate Justice at BC better represents the broad goals we have, not just to get BC to divest but to have solar panels on every roof, to have efficiency be a priority, to have classes and programs for students who can engage in this really important area,” Wengronowitz said. “If you want to get jobs in the future, this is the direction of intelligent folks and strong willed folks and good hearted folks and institutions that want to be moving up in the ranks, like Boston College.”

BC is one of 19 private universities in the country that is need-blind and meets the full need of its students. Dunn says that the University is able to do that because of its $2 billion endowment. He said BC does not plan to divest from fossil fuels.

Individuals have a moral obligation to support sustainability initiatives by reducing their own carbon footprints, Dunn said. He believes that the most effective way to make change is to individually embrace sustainability.

“Quite frankly, it seems like the notion of divestment is just a very convenient way to absolve ourselves of our own responsibilities,” he said. “‘If the oil companies just divest the problem goes away,’ is the notion. That’s not true—the best way we can effect change is to commit ourselves individually.”

Vice President of Student Affairs Barbara Jones argues that BC has the opportunity to make a larger impact by educating its students and helping them to understand the issues of sustainability. Upon graduation, students will be able to influence the world on their own as well as in their businesses, she said, adding that they will be better able to do that if they have been educated about sustainability.

Dunn noted that members of CJBC have met with several different administrators, including Leahy, Jones, and Chief Investment Officer John Zona, despite claims that the University is unwilling to work with the group.

“We admire the students’ passion—we have great respect for the passion, the issue,” Dunn said. “And, they’ve certainly worked hard and are dedicated to it but it’s important that there always be honesty and a respect for differing opinions, and when that’s not the case I think it’s important in an academic institution to draw attention to it.”

Wengronowitz said he is hopeful that the group and the University will be able to establish a better working relationship.

“It would really be to their benefit to really work with us and work with students who are excited about things that are really important,” he said. “If they treat us like adults, we’ll return that favor and we could have a great working relationship instead of this antagonistic thing that nobody really wants.”

Featured Image by Daniella Fasciano / Heights Staff

February 15, 2015