MacDivest’s first in-person protest on campus a success as support intensifies for divestment across McMaster
Photo C/O: Shaded Lenz
McMaster University Student Center was abuzz on the morning of Oct. 27 as many Mac students rallied up for the sit-in organized by MacDivest as part of their ongoing mission to make divestment a reality at McMaster. The protest consisted of students banding together at the Student Center for a duration of 24 hours, until the morning of Oct. 28 to encourage the university to follow suit with the trend of divestment recently spearheaded by Canadian universities such as the University of Toronto and Simon Fraser University. Mainly, the students wished to grab the attention of McMaster’s Board of Governors, a major directorial committee responsible for McMaster’s budgeting and spending practices. Given the crucial role of the Board of Governors in determining the trajectory of divestment at McMaster, the sit-in event was geared directly towards the Board of Governors, naming itself as “Drain the B.o.G.”
Adeola Egbeyemi, a fourth-year arts and science student, is a representative of the arts and science student caucus at the McMaster Students Union and uses her knowledge to involve herself heavily in the divestment project.
“We did not expect this level of student engagement. We were very visible and we had a lot of students notice what was happening and want to get involved. Students are tired of climate inaction,” explained Egbeyemi.
Being MacDivest’s first in-person gathering following COVID-19 safety protocols, the rebellious measures employed in the sit-in are a response to the university’s repeated pattern of inaction towards the climate emergency throughout this year. In February of 2021, McMaster’s financial affairs and facility services hosted a virtual town hall regarding McMaster’s investment decision where all Zoom controls were deactivated, effectively rendering the town hall a seminar, and not providing a platform for students to voice criticisms. Immediately following this in March 2021, the first climate strike was coordinated with MacDivest and 13 other activist groups across Hamilton where over 100 letters were sent demanding divestment, with no responses from the McMaster administration or the Board of Governors.
Photo C /O: Shaded Lenz
Caption: Adeola Egbeyemi speaks at the sit-in
Over the summer, McMaster University’s secretary and privacy officer contacted MacDivest to state that the Chair of the Board of Governors had asked for a written submission from, to which MacDivest preferred to present their findings in a virtual meeting format with the Chair and other relevant parties present due to the earlier submission of letters, to which they received no further responses from the Board of Governors. Finally, the event which forced MacDivest to conduct the sit-in as a physical form of protest on campus was the power washing of a mural painted which emblazoned “no brighter world without divestment.”
MacDivest chose Thursday, Oct. 27 to put on the sit-in, given that it was the day before the Board of Governors were to meet for the first time in the 2021-2022 academic year and since David Farrar, the president of McMaster demanded the Board craft a divestment plan.
The sit-in wished to evaluate how the Board of Governors approached the divestment planned and if it was in accordance with MacDivest’s thoroughly researched demands.
“We expected there to be lower to higher points of engagement throughout the sit-in as it is a 24-hour event and at our highest point of engagement was when community speakers addressed the university, with over 50 people listening in. We had around 30 people sleep in at the Student Center,” explained Egbeyemi.
The sit-in was a carefully planned event on behalf of MacDivest, with planning beginning over reading week and MacDivest coordinators reaching out to various experienced activists and organizers involved in the Hamilton climate scene, specifically with Defund HPS and Hamilton 350. The sit-in was coordinated by four MacDivest internal teams dedicated to managing various aspects of the event.
The sit-in attracted the attention of McMaster University security services, who reached out to MacDivest on Oct. 26, a day before the sit-in was set to occur. Security services expressed concerns regarding COVID-19 safety protocols and fire safety and had attempted to convince MacDivest to end the sit-in and disperse the crowd at 11 p.m. instead of conducting it overnight as planned.
“We had Divest members who were fire safety trained be present for every shift and we were not going to back down on our event. We felt surveilled by campus security throughout the sit-in,” said Egbeyemi.
Despite the success of the event, when MacDivest did attend the anticipated Board of Governors meeting, they were faced with disappointing news that divestment was not announced. In place of complete divestment, the Board of Governors in conjunction with President Farrar announced a carbon neutral plan and stated that McMaster’s indirect investments with asset managers were too complicated to facilitate divestment.
However, support still reigns strong for MacDivest, with most student faculty groups at McMaster chiming in their support and the McMaster Students Union endorsing university-wide divestment while divesting themselves. MacDivest and its projects are also backed by McMaster Green Invest, a group of McMaster professors fighting for reinvestment in non-fossil fuel industries, with many faculty members expressing their views on why Mac should divest.
However, deciphering why the Board of Governors refuses to take the final step towards divestment despite the entire university voicing their support is not MacDivest’s responsibility. MacDivest only intends to keep pushing the university to recognize the facts of climate change and that the climate crisis is here to stay. This sit-in also demonstrated to the Mac community and students how intensely tied the Board of Governors are to the fossil fuel industry and how removed they are from the sentiments of the university, with many Board members such as Chair Bradley Merkel having decades of history at major fossil fuel corporations such as Imperial Oil and ExxonMobil.
“The involvement of fossil fuels and those who have a stake in it should be separated from an institution that brings in students and is about a ‘brighter world’ and a brighter future. McMaster needs to live up to its saying and it should actively try to also have a stake in creating that brighter future,” said Egbeyemi.
Board of Governor’s Secretary Andrea Thyrett-Kid was not available to comment on the situation when contacted.
The Sil will continue to monitor the development of divestment at Mac.