Opinion | Op-eds

Bold or Bust: Full divestment is possible

Twenty years ago this September, a five-month strike for healthcare and maternity leave by the Barnard clerical workers ended. It was one of the longest strikes in the history of American college campuses.  When Barnard adopted the campaign’s demands, it took something else, too: the slogan, “Bold, Beautiful, Barnard.” The long cherished motto began as a chant used by the clerical union to confront administrators to be bolder. Strikers argued that it was fundamentally hypocritical for a women’s college to deny health care and maternity leave to its predominantly female workers.

Today, the legacy of the workers’ strike lives on. “Bold, Beautiful, Barnard” is now a part of Barnard’s mission; it is a mentality, in many ways, that we students strive for. But few people know how this slogan came to be engraved in our identity. Barnard adopted “bold and beautiful” as its mission only after strikers challenged Barnard to be. As the op-ed in Spectator from Student Worker Solidarity mentioned last week, the words of the administrators “are meaningless if real progress is not made in the form of improved wages, benefits”. We became “bold and beautiful” when the unionized needs of the community were met by the school that brought us together.

In 1996, Barnard rose to to the challenge of providing its workers with the necessary resources that it believes its students—and all women—should have access to. And now, Barnard students continue to challenge the mission of our college because resistance is embedded within our foundation. Barnard College was founded to educate women because Columbia would not. Our school’s existence has always been in resistance to the oppression of women. Time and time again, as we the students recognize that our college is not acting in line with the values it preaches, we show up to dare the college we love to be bolder.  

As the fossil fuel divestment campaign builds and the impacts of climate change are felt globally, the nation and the world watch as more and more institutions decide to join the movement. Barnard empowers women to become leaders in every way imaginable. We, as members of Divest Barnard, believe that our place as a women’s college is at the forefront of climate justice. And we ask our college to take a bold stand on what is an inherently gendered issue.

Climate change disproportionately affects women, especially women of color and low income communities, by exacerbating all preexisting systems of oppression. For example, women comprise of two thirds of the world’s 1.2 billion poor, that are suffering from water scarcity. 75 percent of displaced people in climate disasters are women and children, and the uncompensated, unseen labor that women must bear during and after climate disasters is immense. These burdens include the increased cost of disrupted childcare support systems, damaged homes (which are often also the center of production or work for women) and increased domestic violence.

If Barnard purports to “embrace its responsibility to address issues of gender in all their complexity and urgency” as its mission statement states, then its investments must reflect its values by addressing what many deem the most complex and urgent “issue of gender” of our time.

Some schools have chosen partial divestment, others coal alone, and some full divestment coupled with comprehensive climate action plans. Ironically, Barnard first invested in coal after Divest Barnard’s campaign began in the summer of 2015, and throughout the negotiations with the Task Force there has been no movement to decreasing these investments, which could likely be increasing. The 10 months we have spent meeting with the administration to discuss divestment options have only further affirmed that our demands are sound. It is possible, and even more apparently necessary, for Barnard to fully divest. Barnard has too often been behind its peers inaddressing social issues, including accepting self-identified women despite sex assigned at birth.Now we we ask Barnard once again, to be on the right side of history, at the right (if not slightly delayed) moment in history.

Divest Barnard has worked tirelessly within and outside administrative channels, met with Board members and faculty within the Task Force two to three times a week all of last spring, and continues to negotiate now on a weekly basis. Within the same week last spring, members of Divest Barnard were awarded trophies from the Barnard Bold awards night and had a meeting with lawyers from the Law School to negotiate their cases for participating in the Columbia Divest for Climate Justice sit-in on Low Library. We were rewarded and punished for engaging in two very important means of achieving an end that Barnard should be proud of—divesting from fossil fuels.The doors have been opened and we have a seat at the table. Yet while we are are grateful for this seat, we know we wouldn’t have been afforded it had we not started our campaign boldly, loudly and persistently from outside the door.

The establishment of the Presidential Task Force to Examine Divestment—launched in January and consisting of board members, faculty, administrators and student representatives from SGA and Divest Barnard—has taught us that Barnard believes that divestment is possible. The history between Divest Barnard and the Task Force shows us the potential for the students and administrators to work together in order to make Barnard stand beautifully and boldly behind its values. It has been a rewarding and eye-opening experience that positions Barnard as unique among other schools in its divestment approach.

With our strong engagement with the Task Force and a history of direct action supporting us, we see that the conditions are ripe for the Board and the Barnard community to act boldly together. The time is now for Barnard to fully divest from fossil fuels, a decision all members of the Barnard community can be proud of. Let’s continue to embrace that our existence is resistance, to rise to the challenge, and to create change that lives up to our college’s mission that Barnard can always be bolder.

Evelyn Mayo is a Barnard College junior studying environmental science with a concentration in Race and Ethnicity. Sammy Step is a Barnard College junior studying psychology and art history. Ella Merrill is a Barnard College junior studying environmental policy with a concentration in human rights. Danielle Fox is a Barnard College senior studying english and psychology. The authors are members of Divest Barnard, a student-run environmental justice campaign at Barnard currently focusing on divestment from fossil fuels.

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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