Amid conversations on campus concerning how Goshen College will respond to calls for divestment from Chase Bank, which is helping to finance the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Army Corps of Engineers has granted the easement allowing for the continued construction of that pipeline.
Students who are campaigning for the divestment have met with key administrators: Ken Newbold, the provost; Deanna Risser, the interim vice president for finance; and Glenn Gilbert, the utilities manager and sustainability coordinator.
These conversations were held on Feb. 2 and 14, with a shifting national narrative as the backdrop.
The proposed pipeline, which would carry 470,000 barrels of oil a day, would pass less than a mile from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation in North Dakota. The tribe has said the pipeline would pass through sacred ancestral land and put their water supplies at risk.
“It’s a group of people who really want to get things done,” Newbold said in a follow-up interview this week. “Our initial conversation [on Feb. 2] was more educational and framing, in a sense.”
The students – seniors Naomi Gross, Hannah Yoder, Laura Miller, Sarah Hofkamp and Chelsea Risser – came to the meeting with two demands: divestment from Chase, as well as a statement addressing the situation and the commitment to social justice that President Brenneman had released earlier this month.
After the first meeting, the students said they had an understanding that they, along with the administrators, would team up to draft statements as to how the group would move forward in addressing this issue.
The administration came away with a different understanding: though they were taking steps in beginning to understand what divest would mean for the institution, they hadn’t begun the process.
“We had good conversation, and talked about how we need to meet again,” Risser said. “We didn’t really have a clear way forward, other than wanting to create a task force to continue to talk about that.”
The students want to develop a task force of more individuals in the Goshen College community, consisting of both students and administrators. They talked about having a business course on campus that would be devoted to this issue and divestment more generally.
Deanna, who has served as interim vice president for finance since July, said that divesting is not an overnight process.
“There is history that we have to figure out here, on how Chase is our bank,” she said. “Leaving this to Ken, Glenn and I made us think we definitely needed to do some history work. I need to talk to Jim Histand, who was previously in the role I’m in.”
Another obstacle that stands in the way of divesting from a large bank such as Chase is the college’s ability to work internationally.
The ability to wire money internationally to other countries for GC’s SST program was one complexity Newbold stated would need to be overcome.
“We would need to find who could handle getting money to Peru, Cambodia and Tanzania,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out [internally] so that we can more actively engage the students in what realistic next steps might be.”
Despite the challenges, the administrators affirmed the work of the students and their concerns. “What can we do on campus to bring voice to this important issue in all aspects, including climate justice, racial justice and the power dynamic of how the federal government is working on this issue without environmental remediation?” asks Newbold. “I would say the Chase conversation is one of many we need to be having.”
“Finding the best places of intersection for the college in all areas,” he said, “is an outcome I would propose working towards.”