Swarthmore Mountain Justice is a student organization committed to fighting for climate justice. We are currently working in concert with over 100 other student organizations and national partners to move our universities’ endowments out of the fossil fuel industry. We are calling on Swarthmore College to divest from its current holdings in sixteen fossil fuel companies, or the “Sordid Sixteen.” These companies violate countless health, safety, and environmental regulations, the burdens of which are usually borne by low-income communities and communities of color. The fossil fuel industry is also one of the primary culprits of the climate crisis and corrupts our political system with incredible financial power. A large-scale divestment movement not only cuts into that financial power, but it also affects these companies on a political and moral level.
In addition to our on-campus organizing, Swarthmore Mountain Justice strives to work in solidarity with communities on the frontlines of fossil fuel extraction, burning, transportation, and waste. We refuse to stand by while our school invests in the destruction of communities and regions through mountaintop removal, the tar sands, hydrofracking, deep sea oil drilling, coal exportation, and other forms of destructive fossil fuel extraction. It is time for Swarthmore to become a true leader in the struggle for climate justice. Swarthmore has the opportunity to take a bold stand for a just and sustainable future by refusing to support the very companies that are destroying that future. Join with us in calling on all United States colleges and universities to divest for our future!
A Letter from Ken Hechler, Class of 1935
To President Rebecca Chopp,
My fellow Alumni,
and the entire Swarthmore Community:
Since I was graduated from Swarthmore in 1935, I have lived a long life of dedication to the common good. I served in the United States Army during WWII, nine terms in Congress and was the only Congressman to march with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama, I then served four terms as the Secretary of State of West Virginia. Since the early 70’s I have actively campaigned against the coal mining method of mountaintop removal, which is devastating the environment and economy of my adopted home state of West Virginia.
I firmly believe that Swarthmore instilled in me this passion for justice. It was clear when I was a student that social justice, responsibility and stewardship were core tenets of the college’s institutional mission. At the Quaker institution reputed for its activism, I learned to fight for what is right. I have been pleased to see this characteristic of the college still exists. In her inaugural address, President Chopp reaffirmed this mission, noting that “Swarthmore College is blessed by its deeply rooted commitment to educate, to set anew, and set aright.”
Today, students at Swarthmore are living up to the college’s mission by fighting the injustices of the fossil fuel industry. Societal reliance on fossil fuels is an environmental, economic, and racial injustice. Though pollution and climate change affect us all, poor communities and communities of color suffer the severest impacts. One just has to look at the damage of hydrofracking in Western Pennsylvania, mountaintop removal mining in Southern West Virginia and the oil spill in the Gulf. Some of these areas are home to Swarthmore students and their families. Despite the sobering evidence of the destructive impact of extraction, Swarthmore is invested in many fossil fuel companies. Having seen and experienced the impact of mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia, I believe that these investments are unconscionable.
For over a year now, student activists have been calling on the college to divest from fossil fuel companies. I am writing to tell you it cannot be the sole job of students to advocate for the common good. To truly be a social justice institution, Swarthmore must practice what it preaches: it is time for President Chopp and the Board of Managers to live up to Swarthmore’s founding ideals and historic principles by ending its investments in unjust and harmful fossil fuel companies.
When President Chopp was inaugurated, she asked, “Can there be any doubt that we must do all we can to sustain the beauty of this good earth?” At the moment, Swarthmore is not doing all that it can. It is my hope that it will as it moves away from investments in coal, oil, and natural gas, permanently cutting ties to industries that are destroying individuals, communities, and our “Good Earth” itself.
At this writing, I will begin withholding donations to Swarthmore until I am assured my money is not indirectly contributing to MTR mining or other fossil fuel extraction, and therefore the destruction of my home. Since the voice of conscience raised by the students is not enough to spur change, perhaps this financial pressure will be.
I hope all other alumni will join me in this withholding of donations. You know that together our voices will be heard. Together, we can ensure that Swarthmore returns to the just and sustainable institution we once admired.
Class of ‘35