At Swarthmore College, Longest Ever Divestment Sit-In Ends on Hopeful Note

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At Swarthmore College, Longest Ever Divestment Sit-In Ends on Hopeful Note

After 32-day action, Swarthmore board agrees to discuss pulling college's holdings from fossil fuel companies

In early April, environmentalist Bill McKibben visited the Swarthmore sit-in. McKibben is a co-founder of 350.org, which is supporting divestment campaigns around the world. (Photo: Swarthmore Mountain Justice/Facebook)

The longest and largest ever sit-in for fossil fuel divestment ended on Monday, after Swarthmore College students secured two major victories—a commitment from the institution's Board of Managers to engage in dialogue over pulling its holdings from oil, gas, and coal companies, and a faculty resolution formally recommending divestment. 

About 175 students slept and studied for 32 days in Parrish Hall, where the Pennsylvania college's administrative offices are housed. The action was part of an ongoing 'Divestment Spring' that's sweeping campuses across the country, from Harvard University to the University of California system. Swarthmore is considered the birthplace of the fossil fuel divestment movement.

"If Swarthmore divests loudly and boldly, many other colleges and universities will take notice."
—Swarthmore College alumni

In a statement announcing the sit-in on March 16, the student group Swarthmore Mountain Justice declared:

We are calling on our college—the very institution tasked with preparing us for the future—to stand with us in ensuring a just and stable future. The Swarthmore community recognizes this opportunity to align our investments with our values. Over 1,100 faculty and alumni, along with 970 students (61% of the student body), have signed a petition calling on the College's Board of Managers to divest from fossil fuels. Despite this, the Board has rejected this historic opportunity to show international leadership on climate. We cannot stand idly by as Mr. Niemczewski and Board Chair Gil Kemp continue to prevent the Board of Managers from responding to the mandate from the Swarthmore community to align our investments with our values.

As a result of the sit-in, the Board of Managers announced that they would put fossil fuel divestment on the agenda at the May board meeting—but students said that wasn't enough. "While this is a major victory for our campaign, we are continuing to sit-in to call for the Board to reopen dialogue with us because we need to ensure that divestment will be seriously considered in May, and that the Board is committed to seizing the historic opportunity that we have before us," Erika Weiskopf, a sophomore and sit-in organizer, said in March.

Now, according to Tuesday's Philadelphia Inquirer, the Board has stated it will "engage" with the students leading up to its decision on divestment on May 1 and 2. The Board has said that it will specifically consider the students' four-point divestment proposal.

In addition, the Swarthmore faculty voted Friday to support the student demands, urging the Board to "announce divestment from the 200 Fossil Free Index companies in separately managed funds, with reinvestment in energy efficiency and renewables."

And late last week, Swarthmore alumni delivered 360 pledges to withhold donations until the Board commits to fossil fuel divestment, along with 1,083 petition signatures and over a hundred letters calling for divestment to the alumni office.

"If Swarthmore divests loudly and boldly, many other colleges and universities will take notice," the alumni wrote in an open letter published Thursday.

In a message posted at the group's Facebook page on Tuesday afternoon, Swarthmore Mountain Justice announced the end of the sit-in and thanked the "hundreds of students, faculty, alumni, and community members who joined us for the longest sit-in in the divestment movement's history. We made it clear #whoseside the Swarthmore College community is on."

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