Sunrise Amherst Responds to Divestment Announcement

Dear President Martin and Board of Trustees,

We would first like to thank the Board for the March 31 announcement regarding fossil fuel divestment. We appreciate that the college is listening to and addressing the concerns that student organizers and the campus community have expressed regarding fossil fuels. Divestment is both a financial and moral statement, and we are thus grateful that Amherst is willing to take a public stance against the unethical and destructive fossil fuel industry.

That being said, we still feel there is more work to be done. Broadly, while the college partially addressed our demands with regard to fossil fuels, it did not address our call for divestment from the Prison-Industrial Complex (PIC), which was the other focus of the letter we released this past November. As we continue to push for PIC divestment, as well as for a more aggressive timeline for fossil fuel divestment, we would like to circulate a list of specific demands and timelines that we still expect the college to meet.

We recognize that certain goals will take longer to achieve than others, and we have thus split our demands into two categories: immediate and longer-term. We feel that the timelines we outline below are reasonable in light of the information we have received from the Board of Trustees, and in light of the similar demands of many of our peer institutions.

We also feel it is important to be specific about what we mean when we reference “the fossil fuel industry” and “the prison-industrial complex.” By the fossil fuel industry, we mean energy companies whose primary business relates to the extraction or transport of fossil fuels. Drawing inspiration from our peers at Harvard and Georgetown, we consider an entity to be part of the PIC if: a) It provides financial support to private prison companies; b) It relies on unpaid or low-paid prison labor in its supply chains; c) It has a monopoly on the provision of prison necessities, including but not limited to healthcare, food, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, commissary items, etc; d) It contracts with prisons to supply weapons, surveillance technology, etc.

Given these clarifications, here are our updated demands. 

Immediate Demands
Investment Decisions

1. We call for an immediate commitment to end all new investments in prisons or companies which depend on prisons for their profit.

2. We call for immediate divestment from the college’s holdings in a prison telecom company. In President Martin’s response to our initial letter, she conceded that Amherst College holds one indirect investment in a company that depends on the prison-industrial complex for its profit. While she asserts that this investment is small and indirect, we nevertheless feel that immediate action is warranted.

Transparency and the Role of Students

3. We call for quarterly meetings with President Martin and the Board of Trustees. We appreciate the meeting we had with the Board and hope we can continue to meet in the future. We also appreciate that the college has now released an Investment Transparency Report that makes public some of the knowledge we gained at past meetings about our endowment. Moving forward, we would like the regular meetings to have a student-led agenda, as well as many student representatives as the student body sees fit.

4. We call for transparency regarding who sits on the Investment Committee, a group which is, as of now, kept secret from the student body.

5. We call for quarterly reports about the college’s divestment process. We have appreciated the quarterly reports President Martin has been circulating regarding the college’s progress towards the anti-racist agenda laid out this past summer by our peers in Reclaim Amherst and the Black Student Union. We request a similar level of accountability regarding divestment, which could also take the form of quarterly email updates to the entire college community.

Longer-Term Demands

6. We call for Amherst College to publicly commit to divestment from the prison-industrial complex by the end of 2021. The college must commit to a firm deadline for total divestment from the prison-industrial complex by 2025.

7. We call for Amherst College to divest from fossil fuels by the end of 2025. Amherst has currently committed to divesting most of its fossil fuel holdings by 2030, in accordance with the natural phase-out of its existing contracts. We feel that divestment should be an active choice rather than a passive one; the college is prioritizing its obligations to fossil fuel companies over the well-being of its current and future community. In the face of rapidly worsening global ecological crises, the 2030 timeline is simply not acceptable. The college must commit to a firm deadline for total divestment.

8. We call for the college to evaluate this and future student demands with an eye towards conflicts of interest amongst those on the Board of Trustees. Right now, each board member is required to declare their own conflicts of interest annually. However, no information is available as to how these declarations affect members’ voting eligibility. Moving forward, we would like board members to disclose not only their conflicts of interest, but also their processes for determining said conflicts, to the entire Amherst community. We demand that no board member who profits from the fossil fuel industry should be permitted to vote on the issue of divestment. In any analogous future situation, board members should recuse themselves from voting on investments that directly affect a source of personal income.

9. In solidarity with our peers in Reclaim Amherst and the Anti-Racism Task Force, we call for Amherst College to create six student positions on the Board of Trustees. These six positions will be filled by the Association of Amherst Students President and five representatives to be elected by the student body, at least two of whom must be Black students (see priority #2 from Reclaim Amherst). These students must be full board members with voting power.


The Amherst College Divestment Coalition