Family Weekend a Key Moment for SDC in Fight to Divest Pitzer From Blackrock

By: Jack Friedman

As parents descended on Pitzer for Family Weekend, one group of students utilized the opportunity to garner support for their upcoming Senate resolution. The Students Demand Change Coalition (SDC) has been fighting to get Pitzer to divest from the investment management company, BlackRock. 

Conversations about Pitzer’s involvement with BlackRock began last September after a student called attention to the ethics of the company, and the involvement of Board of Trustees member, Robert Fairbarn. 

According to a student leader from the group, Ngaya Swai PZ ‘23, Family Weekend was an opportunity for their message to reach a new audience.

Fliers were put up across campus, listing the demands of the SDC including divestment from BlackRock and investment in a more ethical company. On the first floor of Pitzer Hall, post-it notes were put up over the windows so that their message, “Divest From BlackRock!” could be read from the parking lot.

According to the SDC’s pending Senate Resolution, Pitzer College should reinvest its endowment alongside a socially responsible asset management companies, as determined by a discussion including students, faculty, staff, administration.

Divest Claremont Colleges, one of the resolution’s community sponsors, expressed their support for the group.

“We think they are very successful. They are exactly what is required to raise awareness about Pitzer’s connection to BlackRock and to put pressure on BlackRock to set proper standards in their index funds,” they said in an email to The Outback. 

Arlo Van Liew PZ ’23, another student member of the SDC, spoke to the mission the group has had since the ethics of the company were first called into question at Pitzer.  

“Our long term goal is to get the trustee member who is heavily invested in BlackRock off of the board, and we have a list of demands to be able to right the wrongs that have been occurring,” he said. 

According to the BlackRock website, Robert Fairbairn is the Vice Chairman and interim head of Human Resources for BlackRock, a company he has been with since 1993. 

The resolution also highlights BlackRocks’s investment in socially and environmentally irresponsible industries. 

“BlackRock is one of the largest shareholders of private prison and immigrant detention companies… the world’s largest investor in coal companies, coal-fired utilities, oil and gas companies, and companies driving deforestation,” it states. 

Jonas Kron, the father of a first-year student, commented on the work of the group. 

“I’ve seen their posters around… I work for an asset management firm that does socially responsible investing, so I understand why the students would want to not have the schools endowment invested in those industries,” he said. 

According to the BlackRock website, the industries and funds they manage range widely.

“BlackRock currently manages a broad suite of dedicated sustainable investment solutions ranging from green bonds and renewable infrastructure to thematic strategies that allow clients to align their capital with specific outcomes, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

According to the Pitzer website, in 2017 Pitzer and BlackRock introduced the first ever global equity index fund that is both Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)-focused and fossil fuel-free. 

“Pitzer College is known for responsible, ethical and innovative solutions to global environmental and social challenges… We thank the Board of Trustees for its vision and leadership in this ground-breaking solution that empowers non-profits to align investments with their values.” said Pitzer College President Melvin L. Oliver in a 2017 press release. 

Divest Claremont Colleges however, does not consider Pitzer’s actions to be good enough. 

“Pitzer is greenwashing for Black Rock and providing the social license BlackRock needs to operate in our society” they said in an email to The Outback. 

According to the resolution, the ESG index focus fund is not an accurate reflection of social responsibility. 

“Pitzer has holdings that meet one or more of the following criteria: (i) harming and destruction of the Amazon Rainforest and its indigenous peoples; (ii) nuclear weapons and/or nuclear power; (iii) the global arms trade; and (iv) private prisons and/or migrant detention centers,” it says.

The resolution will soon be introduced in the Pitzer student senate, according to Swai. 

If it passes among student senators, the resolution will then be taken to the administration and board of trustees to deliberate. 

Jack Friedman ‘23 is from New York City and desperately misses bagels. The cream cheese, the everything seasoning… He also is often distracted by food and gets lost in his own thoughts. He is very undecided but planning on being a Political Science major.

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