SSA Perseveres Despite Setbacks for Divestment Campaign

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A collective sigh of frustration reverberated throughout Wyckoff Auditorium as members of Sustainable Student Action (SSA) collected themselves following the university’s budget transparency forum.

SSA has worked diligently to pressure Seattle University to divest from companies in the fossil fuel industry since 2012. They have made significant progress over the years since, but as the forum indicated, the fight for divestment is far from over.

SSA members did not have high expectations going into the forum, held on April 23, but the organization certainly had some hopes. “We had just found out from one of the members of the SRI working group that the board of trustees would be voting in May, so we were excited to hear that confirmed by Connie Kanter,” said SSA member Nicolás Cruz, a senior double major in biology and sociology.

That excitement turned to disappointment as Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Finance and Business Affairs at Seattle U Connie Kanter informed SSA and others in attendance of the forum that the Board of Trustees would not be voting on divestment this May, and that a new subcommittee was being formed to investigate divestment further.

Seattle U formed the Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) Task Force in response to previous SSA pressure. The task force eventually created the SRI Working Group, which passed its recommendations on divestment to the Board of Trustees, who sent said recommendations to the Investment Committee, who then created a new subcommittee in response.

Junior Sierra Suafoa-McClain, a business management major and SSA member present for the forum, criticized this move.

“That’s been the tactic of the school throughout divestment and for a lot of other issues happening on campus,” Suafoa-McClain said. “It’s to make these working groups, and task forces and subcommittees to push away student power, especially right now with it being spring quarter. They are going to make a subcommittee when student power dwindles because of summer break.”

Along with this, the presentation revealed that the SRI Working Group’s current working proposal to the Board of Trustees recommended divestment only from companies who own oil reserves—not those involved in other aspects of the fossil fuel industry. This process would occur over a five-year time period and which would not begin until the Board of Trustees approved it—if they decide to do so.

“The sense of urgency they have is very different than ours,” Cruz said. “Obviously the people on the Board of Trustees, the people on the SRI working group, predominantly aren’t affected by climate change or the extraction and transportation of fossil fuels, so they don’t feel the urgency.”

Suafoa-McClain expressed similar frustrations with the bureaucracy. “Moral arguments do not really persuade them. It’s all monetary, its very Machiavellian-type reasoning. So I would say they listen but they are not persuaded by it.”

New information regarding the total amount of money Seattle U has invested in fossil fuels was presented at the April 23 budget forum.“There is actually more money invested in fossil fuels than we thought,” Cruz said. “We used to think it was $12.2 million and now it’s $13.6 million—about seven percent of our endowment.”

While the news was mostly disappointing to SSA, the club said there was some small progress.

“Last year when we attended, [Kanter] had maybe one slide about divestment,” Suafoa-McClain said. “This year she had several slides about divestment because it’s something SSA and other people on campus have been fighting for very diligently throughout the years. She addressed it, she also took several digs at SSA that were unnecessary.”

SSA members described Kanter as acting defensive toward them during the forum. “One of our members who is a senior is Nicolas Cruz, and she addressed us as ‘Nicolás and his friends’ which is frankly very irritating,” Suafoa-McClain said. “A lot of the school administration does that, where they only address him or one person, and then the rest of us are not really identified. Which can be frustrating because we are all individuals and we are all people with names and identities that they frankly ignore.”

Despite the circumstances, SSA is moving forward and plans to escalate their actions to increase pressure on Seattle U.

“SWe have hope but we’re not optimistic about it. There’s a lot of work to do and there’s going to be a lot of struggle to get it but I think that we’re prepared and we are getting prepared to do that,” Cruz said. “I do think there is hope and excitement and people are getting on board, we’re getting new members who are joining because of our actions they want to join and get involved and that’s really exciting.”

Alec may be reached at
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