In a corridor in the Henry Hicks building on Dalhousie Campus, members of Divest Dal stand around a table. The table’s surface is covered in oversized valentines bearing divestment-themed messages: “It’s not you, it’s fossil free” and “I think we should see other sources.”
A heart-shaped box of chocolates is emptied and then filled with charcoal.
In a group, the activists deliver the valentines and coal to the office of Dalhousie President Richard Florizone, leaving them with President’s secretary, who promises to deliver them. It’s a quick action, but the members are happy to have been able to do it, noting that they’ve been escorted out of the Henry Hicks by security in the past.
More importantly, for Divest Dal, tongue-in-cheek actions like this one represent the role reversal that fossil fuel divestment campaigns have enacted in universities.
“[The university] had an opportunity to be the leaders in sustainability they claim to be and they just completely chose to side with a dying industry,” says Liv Bochenek, spokesperson for Divest Dal. “Students are the leaders and that’s shown through our campaign as well as the student union divesting, so this action was to draw attention to that, that [the university] are not being leaders.”
On February 13, divestment campaigns around the around the world carried out actions as part of the ongoing attempt to secure fossil fuel divestment from universities and other institutions.
Organized by 350.org, the day of action connects disparate campaigns. “The idea is to build support for campaigns everywhere and make our movement even stronger by doing actions together in solidarity,” notes Bochenek.
It’s also another chapter in Divest Dal’s own saga. In November, Dalhousie’s Board of Governors voted not to divest the share of the university’s endowment invested in the top 200 companies with the largest carbon reserves, a share totaling $20.3 million dollars, or 4.3 percent of the endowment.
Showing that that decision was not the end of the campaign, says Bochenek, is an important reason for Divest Dal to participate in the Global Divestment Day. “The whole world is out doing actions to show that this is a growing movement,” she notes, “and we’re out today to show the Board of Governors that we’re not going away any time soon until they dump fossil fuels.”
While the members of Divest Dal are appreciative of student leadership, this doesn’t mean they’ve given up entirely on the university’s governing apparatus. In the aftermath of the Board’s decision, Divest Dal has turned to another source.
More accurately, that source has turned to them.
“When the Board of Governors decided to vote against divestment, they also voted against doing further research,” notes Joanna Brenchley, member of Divest Dal. “Then the Senate picked it up. I believe it was one of the professors that put a motion forward that the Senate would look into the effects and the risks of divestment on Dalhousie, so we didn’t go to the Senate but the Senate kind of came to us.”
The Senate is currently forming an ad hoc committee on divestment. That committee will hopefully include a student representative, Brenchley says, as well as five or six senators. Once that committee is formalized, it will accept short submissions from academic units on how they believe they would be affected by divestment. The committee will then review those submissions and present their report and recommendations to the Board of Governors in October.
Divest Dal is cautiously optimistic about the role that the Senate will play. This is partly because of the nature of the Senate, says Katie Perfitt of Divest Dal.
“The Senate is another major governing body of the institution and does make decisions about our university,” she says. “It’s representative of faculty and students more so than our Board.”
The extent of faculty support provides some reason for hope – as Perfitt points out, the campaign has over a hundred faculty endorsements, and that number is growing.
Brenchley notes that the process of the committee itself could also be positive for Divest Dal.
“I do have faith that if the ad hoc committee was set up properly, that it would be their job to recognize the scientific research behind the submissions and really check out the solidity of the arguments.”
If they divest now, they lose their shirts.