Case Study of Success: Pitzer College
The Claremont Colleges Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign was one of the first colleges to set up a Responsible Endowments Fund in February 2014. It was an ideal time to introduce an alternative endowment fund into our escalation plan at Pitzer, because we were heading into the final stretch before a final vote on divestment in the spring.
In November, the Board of Trustees (BOT) created the Pitzer College Climate Change Working Group instead of voting on divestment, a move which we suspected to be a diversionary tactic to weaken the campaign. Subsequently, we planned to escalate our campaign externally, while also strengthening our inside game. We felt that establishing an REF would pressure the BOT from a different angle by proving that our campaign had the support of the broader college community beyond the student body. It was a way of saying that our supporters are willing to put their money behind their values, and our college should too.
We coordinated the opening of the fund with our biggest action of the semester on the weekend of the Valentines Day BOT meeting and parents weekend. We coordinated an action complete with street theater, a “human oil spill” outside of the board meeting, community testimonies, and a valentine presented President Trombley signed by students urging her to “break up with fossil fuels.” We used the energy of the event and attendance of parents and alums to kick-start fundraising for the Pitzer College Responsible Endowment Fund.
Over the course of the next two months we organized a fundraising drive, led by student Jesse Honig, the bottom-liner of Pitzer’s REF. Through phone banking, email, and in-person outreach among students, parents, and alums, we raised nearly $12,000 by the middle of March. A letter to the BOT updating them about the funds accumulated in the REF urged the college to take leadership on climate action: “This Fund shows that the Board of Trustees has the support of our entire community--past, present, and future--in divesting from fossil fuels.”
In the final stages of negotiation with the Board of Trustees, the REF provided essential leverage to push our decision-makers to commit to a wide array of actions that extended beyond the initial demands of our campaign. By the middle of March, members of the Climate Change Working Group had decided that some form of divestment was necessary, but they were reticent to divest more than direct holdings in fossil fuel companies. However, combined with student actions, testimony from alumni in the final board meetings, and intense internal negotiations, the REF was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It provided an essential tipping point that allowed the CCWG board members to support fossil fuel divestment. One week later, when they presented the working group’s recommendations to the full board for a vote on divestment and reinvestment, they already had $12,000 secured to start a sustainable reinvestment from the REF. According to BOT allies, this point was a key factor in persuading the BOT to commit to fossil fuel divestment, reinvestment, and greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and other climate actions. Following that vote, Pitzer College became the 11th college in the United States to divest from fossil fuels.
For more information on the REF project, please visit http://giveresponsibly.org or contact email@example.com.
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