Boston College Student Groups Come Together for ‘Divestment 101’

Via The Heights | Scott Baker

A group of clubs hosted a panel on Tuesday examining ethical investment and what they believed Boston College should divest from. The talk, titled “Divestment 101,” was presented by BC’s chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), Climate Justice at BC (CJBC), the GLBTQ+ Leadership Council (GLC), FACES, and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

Throughout the event, student presenters took issue with almost every aspect of how the University handles its investments—primarily the lack of transparency, the financial practicality, and, above all, the morals of the presumed industries in which BC invests. It’s not clear what companies BC has invested in, since the University has yet to disclose that kind of information.

Kai Jorgensen, president of YDSA at BC and MCAS ’21, kicked off the event with a basic framework for divestment. He first argued that BC needs to publicize its investments. He asked why the investments are not available if they don’t make the University look bad.

He also said that investments aren’t apolitical and brought up several claims of BC’s involvements in politics, including upholding the prohibition of cannabis, an apparent reference to its on-campus marijuana ban, which the University cites as compliance with federal law and a condition of receiving federal funding. 

Jorgensen also claimed that BC endorses war criminals, referencing former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s honorary degree from BC Law. Rice served as National Security Adviser to President George W. Bush during the invasion of Iraq.

“What we’re here to talk about today is moving that debate [on fossil fuels] forward to include ethical investments on a more broad scale,” Jorgensen said. “We have a right to know and demand that BC does good for its investments. We’re not asking BC to betray its values but instead stand by them.”

Jorgensen also refuted a statement Associate Vice President for University Communications Jack Dunn made to The Gavel in 2015, that said that BC does “not think that companies that are engaged in energy production are engaged in unethical conduct.” He then posed a hypothetical, wondering if BC investing in defense contractor Raytheon would be antithetical to its Jesuit values. 

There are no indications the University invests in Raytheon.

James Mazareas, a graduate student in MCAS and member of YDSA, brought up BC’s argument that it does not disclose its investments because it would put the University at a “competitive disadvantage” with other investors. He cited both Warren Buffett’s and BC Trustee Mario Gabelli’s public records of their investments to counter this argument. 

Although BC’s investments are not public, Dunn has said in a past statement to The Heightsthat BC is opposed to divestment in fossil fuel companies and does not see divestment as a “viable solution to the important issue of climate change.” 

Mazareas responded to Dunn’s previous explanation with examples of past successful divestment initiatives outside of BC, including the global movement to divest from Apartheid-era South Africa. He noted that, ultimately, BC followed numerous Boston universities and the City of Boston when the investments became financial liabilities. He cited then-University President Rev. J. Donald Monan’s, S.J., statement in 1985 that the decision was financially—not morally—motivated.

Mazareas also brought up BC’s ethical investment guidelines, which state that “gains from investments will not be derived from fraud, abusive power, greed, or injustice.” He also pointed to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ responsible investment guidelines, which proclaim a responsibility to use Catholic values to guide investments.

“I personally take affront to the idea that energy companies are not engaged in wrongful conduct,” he said.

Matthew Barad, a member of CJBC and MCAS ’19, argued that fossil fuel stocks have been losing value in recent years. In 2017, the energy sector lost four percent, while the S&P 500 saw gains of 19 percent.

“Fossil fuel investments harm the most vulnerable the most, and these are the kinds of companies that Boston College is investing in,” Barad said. “It’s immoral, it’s bad business, and students want to divest. So Boston College is losing money and ignoring its own students, so it can keep killing the planet. 

“The reason Boston College remains invested in fossil fuels is because it has a material interest on its Board of Trustees in investing in fossil fuels.”

He emphasized the necessity of continued protest and action against fossil fuel investment, adding that he does not expect to see divestment under [University President Father William P. Leahy, S.J.], but perhaps under the next president.

“We need to continue building pressure so that Fr. Leahy leaves earlier, and when he does, the Board of Trustees feels like they have no choice but to put in somebody who isn’t a ghoul like Fr. Leahy,” Barad said.

The other groups hosting the event moved away from fossil fuels and toward other issues tied to their clubs.

SJP advocated for divesting in Israel and Israeli-supportive companies. They proposed following the BDS movement, which stands for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions. The group listed its goals as “ending the Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestine, giving all Palestinian citizens equal rights, and giving all Palestinian refugees the right of return.” SJP said its movement focuses on refusing to buy Israeli goods, divesting in immoral companies, and calling for U.N. sanctions on Israel.

FACES, an anti-racism group on campus, talked about the prison-industrial complex—they argued that for-profit private prisons make money from the unfair incarceration of citizens who are disproportionately people of color.

They cited reports that private prisons are less safe and less secure, as guards are not as well-trained and receive fewer benefits. FACES also brought up companies that provide services to ICE—the immigration law enforcement agency that often uses private prisons—such as Thomas Reuters and Zephyr Air. While BC’s specific investments are unknown, FACES advised that “BC should divest in companies that help operate ICE and private prison companies that fund ICE facilities.”

GLC brought up anti-LGBTQ+ companies and the commercialization of the Pride movement in recent years. They argued that it has become commercialized by businesses, such as Walmart, that engage in immoral business tactics.

This brought them to the topic of pinkwashing—the hijacking of LGBTQ+ movements to promote political gains—and claimed Israel’s treatment of queer Palestinians and BC’s self-description as a diverse institution are prime examples of this.

“I think we all know that BC advertises itself as a diverse and inclusive place, both for people of color and both for queer students, but its institutional support is far from that,” Chris Ramirez, co-chair of GLC and MCAS ’19, said.

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