The Sit-in for Divestment


Students filled out white boards stating, “Another _____ sitting in for divestment” to put a face to the individuals supporting the campaign.

In order to form a more transparent and accessible relationship with the college, 28 Bowdoin students began a sit-in of the second floor of Hawthorne-Longfellow early Wednesday morning. We read our request out loud, asking for a working group from the College consisting of Board of Trustees members, students, and faculty to consider the prospects of divestment at Bowdoin; we planned to stay until we were heard. It had become apparent over the preceding days of silence from the administration and the Board of Trustees that the issue had to be forced. Constructive dialogue had become dependent on confrontation. We wanted to make ourselves heard.

Over the course of the first sit-in at Bowdoin in decades, we have gathered the support of 105 students and faculty members, who personally came to support us. Not only were members of BCA participating, but also students from different organizations and clubs from across the campus joined. As members of BCA, we were humbled by the new support and inspired by the enthusiasm and dedication of other students. It has become apparent that as a result of the sit-in, a new and more constructive form of conversation had begun on Bowdoin’s campus regarding divestment.

On Thursday, over 40 students gathered to speak to President Mills. Although his personal views on the issue were well known, this meeting confirmed a new reality. Not only did President Mills consider the potential for compromise or meaningful dialogue to be impossible, but he also challenged the viewpoint that students have any role to play in the operation of the college and the method by which it holds itself accountable to the values which it espouses. This is a dangerous and deeply cynical view of higher education, and one to which we firmly object. The college’s commitment to the common good is not just a relative and hollow branding mechanism as President Mills implied, it is a firm promise upon which Bowdoin students solidify their own commitment to the college, it is the very basis upon which we are judged as we apply to Bowdoin. The offer of the college is something we as students take seriously. Equally as dangerous is the notion that viewpoints of students, faculty, and alumni have no bearing on the functional identity of the college. We hold that the core of Bowdoin is far more than the Trustees, the administration, or the financial managers with whom we entrust our money. Bowdoin is more than a business.

During our conversation with President Mills, we offered forward multiple avenues towards the middle ground. Divestment is both a tactic and a process, which can come in many forms. For instance, Bowdoin could divest only its direct holdings in fossil fuels or implement a freeze on further investments. Calls for a transparent working group to investigate the financial possibility of divestment, as other colleges have done, were also ignored. As it stands with President Mills leaving this summer, conversation has been stalled by the fact that President Mills has been allowed to act with unilateral conviction and disinterest in the opinions of the students and faculty around him. It has been made clear to us from meetings with other deans and faculty that meaningful action during the remainder of this year is no longer contingent upon anyone other than the president. This, fortunately, will not be the case in the upcoming semester with the arrival of Clayton Rose, whom we plan to engage directly on these issues.

However, constructive dialogue has in fact already begun to occur elsewhere on campus. Conversations with faculty and students have been constructive, valuable, and enlightening for many, including ourselves. The impressive campus support for the sit-in proved to us that campus momentum for divestment is both a possibility and a reality. We arrived with the expectation to be heard, and we achieved that through members of the Bowdoin community. We hope that our honest and respectful handling of the first student sit-in in decades not only sparks meaningful conversation about divestment and our obligation to act proactively on climate change, but that it also gives courage to those on campus to speak for what they believe in. BCA and those who support us will continue to push for divestment and will work tirelessly to increase student engagement with the issue. We look forward to the arrival of a new president and the opportunity that brings for reaffirming the values we hold as a college and as a community dedicated to listening to one another.

Over the course of the past three days we have shown here, and it has been shown to us, that students are unwilling sit at the sidelines while the identity and actions of the college are decided for us. We have demonstrated that the offer of the college is not something to be taken lightly and that the nature of the dialogue between the students, faculty, and administration is paramount to the functionality and quality of the college. But more importantly we have shown that the status quo of this relationship is unacceptable. The students are Bowdoin, and we will continue to advocate for climate justice and the institutional change that is necessary.


Committing to the climate: taking a stand for divestment by sitting in

by Clara Belitz, Class of 2017

I am sitting in for climate justice because I want to see Bowdoin demonstrate its commitment to the common good. I have pledged to join members of Bowdoin Climate Action (BCA) and more than 50 other students in this sit-in for fossil fuel divestment because I am disappointed.

Instead of progress and dialogue, the Trustees have offered a token meeting and continued silence. Bowdoin students, faculty and alumni deserve better. We deserve to have a genuine conversation about how to make climate action a reality at Bowdoin.

Bowdoin students first won the chance to propose divestment to the Board last April, when we delivered a student petition representing five class years to President Barry Mills. From April to October, six other members of BCA and I—representing three class years and a variety of on-campus activities—began to prepare a formal proposal and presentation for the meeting.

Meticulously researched, written and rewritten, our proposal was outlined in both written form and on a Prezzi, to be given to nearly half of the Board on October 17. We worked for weeks. We practiced and edited, and did dress rehearsal presentations with faculty who held a variety of opinions on divestment.

On the day of the presentation, the Trustees were greeted by close to 100 cheering students, and a letter in support of divestment signed by 70 professors. The Trustees appeared receptive, asking us genuine and engaging questions. The positive response to the presentation was promising, and forward collaborative movement seemed possible. I felt hopeful that we would be able to make meaningful progress toward divestment.

At the end of the meeting, however, we were cut off. When we asked the assembled Trustees with whom we should follow up, moderator and trustee Art Black interrupted our question with applause, and the meeting ended. Some trustees left without taking the written proposal. The cheers of the students outside were matched by the subsequent silence of the Board.

In attempting to contact the Trustees in the following months, we were continually rebuffed.Chair of the Board Deborah Jensen Barker and Mills played hot potato with responsibility for moving forward on divestment in the Orient, and when the Board remained silent on divestment at its February meeting, the College’s pretense of collaboration dissolved.

We were never given the opportunity to continue the conversation started at the presentation. We were never able to collaborate with Board members. During their spring meeting, we dropped a banner reminding the Trustees that the campus awaited action. It read, “Literary institutions are endowed for the common good,” a quotation from former Bowdoin President Joseph McKeen.

Having been ignored by the Board of Trustees, and denied the opportunity to work with the College, BCA publicly called on the College at the Meeting in the Union, a gathering of students expressing dissatisfaction with the campus climate surrounding issues of inequality and injustice, to establish a trustee liaison to communicate with the student body on divestment. President Mills—just three months away from the close of his own tenure at the College—appointed himself the liaison.

For nearly three years, we have organized, petitioned, talked, thought and rallied while the Board of Trustees has dragged its feet. Meanwhile, in the 140 days between October 17, when we proposed divestment to the Board, and March 6, the deadline for a divestment liaison, the New School, the University of Maine System, and Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund) committed to some form of divestment. They joined a growing number of organizations across the globe that have committed to divestment.

At Bowdoin, we are taught to pursue the common good, and that the first step on the path to institutional change is dialogue. Yet the College has not responded to our efforts to create a dialogue, ignoring the calls of students, faculty and alumni for fossil fuel divestment. And so the time has come to take a stronger step. This spring, more than 50 Bowdoin students have pledged to join hundreds of students across the country, from Swarthmore, Harvard, University of California-Berkeley, and elsewhere, to sit-in for climate justice.

In a 2006 interview with the Orient about Darfur divestment, Mills stated that “our efforts in community service are designed to bubble up from our students, faculty and staff—rather than being imposed by the College.” Noting a lack of vocal campus activism, Mills ended by posing a question to the Bowdoin community: “Where is that outrage?”

Well, here it is.

This was originally posted in the Bowdoin Orient on March 27, 2015 

Alumni and Parent Endorsement of BCA’s Sit in for Climate Justice

To the Bowdoin community:We– parents and alumni–are writing to express our support for Bowdoin students sitting in for climate justice this spring. We call on Bowdoin, with its commitment to the Common Good, to address the uneven burden of climate change by divesting our endowment from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. We commend these students for continuing to push despite the College’s refusal to productively engage with this issue. After garnering the support of over 1,000 students and 70 faculty members, Bowdoin Climate Action formally proposed aligning the College’s investments with the Common Good to the Board of Trustees last fall. Since then, the Board has ignored any further conversation for more than 140 days. Though President Mills announced he is the liaison between BCA and the Board, we are concerned that his departure will leave students without a way to continue productive conversations with the administration. Students at Harvard and Swarthmore, too, are escalating their fossil fuel divestment campaign to civil disobedience. The movement is winning across the globe, recently with an endorsement from the United Nations and a commitment to divest from The New School. Three colleges in Maine have committed to divest, including the University of Maine system. Bowdoin is falling behind. We love Bowdoin, and we want to see the College become a leader. These students, as part of a growing worldwide movement, have demonstrated to our community that fossil fuel divestment is necessary, both morally and financially. We urge the Bowdoin administration to listen to the concerns of its students, faculty and staff, to take action and to be a leader for climate justice by pursuing responsible divestment. Sincerely, DeRay Mckesson ’07 Robert E. Ives ’69, Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Naomi Oreskes P ’17 Auden Schendler ’92 Janice Lee P ’12 ’14 ’17 Stuart Shapiro P ’12 ’14 ’17 Jordan Van Voast, ’81 Paul Miller ’92 Keith Halloran, ’77 Tenley Wurglitz, ’03 Freeland Church ’05 Heather Colman McGill ’03 Christian Leahy ’89 Samantha Good ’00 Hesper Schleiderer-Hardy ’02 Sarah Durante ’03 Jessica Balogh ’99 Allison Burson ’07  Daniel O’Maley ’05 Benjamin Richmond ’13 Amy Titcomb ’04 Cory Elowe ’11 Clare Forstie ’03 Rob Smith ’75 Rev. AKM Adam ’79 Michael Rothschild ’10 Mark Toor ’86 Scott Budde ’81 Iris Levin ’05 William Thwing ’64 Alissa Cordner ’04 Ben Martens ’06 Monika Dargin Rushford ’01 Mark Spencer ’88 Edith Leghorn ’14 Bruce Griffin ’69 Maryellen Hearn ’11 Carol Bolger Esposito ’79 Larissa Gaias ’11 Simon FIschweicher ’11 D. Menz ’83 Stephen Buckley Jr. ’71 Enrique Chavez-Arizo P ’17 Andy Mead P ’16 Lory Snady-McCoy P ’15 Nancy Ptacek P ’17 Robert Ratcliffe P ’15 Chris Goodrich P ’15 Miriam Berkman P ’17 Susan Bristol P ’17 Eve Leeman P ’15 Claire Morduch P ’18 Jennifer Brown P Paul Simon P ’17 Sheldon Toubman P ’18

BREAKING: 28 students sit in for climate justice

Brunswick, ME — Early Wednesday morning, 28 Bowdoin students entered President Barry Mill’s office for a “Sit-In for Climate Justice,” refusing to leave until the College committed to collaborating with them on fossil fuel divestment.

“We proposed divestment to the trustees back in October and were ignored.  They haven’t taken the calls of our community seriously,” said Bowdoin senior Matthew Miles Goodrich. “Because the Board has refused to work with us, we’re taking action for climate justice.”

The sit-in is the culmination of three years of campus organizing. Last April, Bowdoin Climate Action presented 1000 student signatures–representing the majority of campus–for divestment to President  Mills.  With 70 faculty members expressing support, the group formally proposed divestment to the Board of Trustees last October, but student presenters were cut off when inquiring about next steps.

“We’re sitting in because we have to ask our trustees whose side they are on,” said first-year Shinhee Kang.  “Do they side with their students, which the endowment is invested for, or an industry whose practices are antithetical to our values and the common good?”

In addition, Bowdoin Climate Action published a letter endorsing the sit-in, signed by 38 alums, including Director of Spiritual Life Bob Ives ‘69, and 16 parents including Harvard historian of science Naomi Oreskes and former chairs of the Bowdoin parents donation fund Stuart Shapiro and Janice Lee. “We commend these students for continuing to push despite the College’s refusal to productively engage with this issue,” it reads. “These students, as part of a growing worldwide movement, have demonstrated to our community that fossil fuel divestment is necessary, both morally and financially.”

“Just yesterday, Syracuse University, where President Mills received his PhD, announced the divestment of its billion dollar endowment from fossil fuels after students sat in,” said junior Allyson Gross. “Momentum is growing, and Bowdoin, as the college of the Common Good, needs to be a leader.”

This marks the third campus sit-in for fossil fuel divestment in three weeks, following occupations at Swarthmore College and the University of Mary Washington.


Read the demand of Bowdoin Climate Action’s Sit-In for Climate Justice