Following the newly tenured faculty ceremony held in Christ Chapel in the company of President Ohle and members of the Board of Trustees on Friday, April 25, a diverse representation of the student population gathered outside to celebrate Divest-Fest.
While Divest-Fest originated with the purpose of raising awareness and creating discussion about institutional divestment from fossil fuels, recent program changes and cuts prompted expansion and inclusion of representation from students in Chinese classes, Center for Servant Leadership, Nordic Ski Team, CICE, and others upset about general cuts of faculty and staff.
The student organization which supports the voices of these individual organizations, “Our Future, Our Voices, #OurGustavus,” became a central force in fueling Divest-Fest.
Junior Nicole Etnikphong has served as an organizer of the #OurGustavus and Divest-Fest movement.
“We’re all part of this community, and we haven’t always had the opportunities to come together as a community . . . We’re hoping [Our Gustavus] can be rooted in a love for Gustavus.It’s an invitation to revive the meaning of community. I think also just establishing our relationship with administrators and those who make a lot of the big decisions for our community which affect our future,” Etnikphong said.
With music, orange balloons, and decorations as a nod to the fossil fuel divestment movement, a variety of signs and banners, and community-centered chants, those involved in the rally worked to foster a positive tone which conveyed a sense of unity and support.
Junior Christina Sand, a member of the Divest Gustavus organization, remarked on the diversity of the organizations ultimately involved in Divest-Fest.
“We tried to recognize everybody that we know about who have been affected by the cuts at this point in time, to give them an opportunity to share their voices,” Sand said.
Divest-Fest Organizer and Junior Kyle Maloney addressed the planning and interaction with administration following the Chapel service.
“Our mission was to have a community rally that would bring people together. Some people were worried that it would be antagonizing, it [would be] more of a protest, that it would interfere with the celebration of the professors that gained tenure. That wasn’t the case. Professors, and faculty, and the Board alike were able to come and join us,” Maloney said.
Organizers of the rally presented broad fundamental goals of fostering greater “inclusion, collaboration, and transparency” in decision-making for the Gustavus community between administration, faculty, staff, and students.
“Our whole goal with planning it was to make sure it wasn’t a confrontational rally or ‘us versus them.’ We wanted to make sure that [we] recognize that we’re all working together, we’re all part of this community, we’re trying to collaborate with one another rather than blaming anyone, we want to figure out how we can move forward as a community together, so it was exciting to see all the positive energy that was kind of embodied in the event,” Divest-Fest Organizer and Senior Erik Anderson said.
Pamphlets detailing four specific goals for the future were also distributed to members of the Board of Trustees and attendees of Divest-Fest. These goals included greater transparency with the student body related to decisions made by the Board in bi-semesterly emails, open forums with the Board which allow for direct student interaction and conversation, the creation of Gustavus email accounts for Board members, and the ability for students to send direct questions through such accounts, and the creation of a faculty and student representative position on the Board’s financial advisory committee.
“We believe the administrators believe that they have our best interest at heart . . . and that they are trying to do what they think is best, and we really appreciate that. We can’t speak enough for how important that role is, but we do see room for improvement and we expect that improvement. We are realizing that there is a sense of urgency for students to be able to be present in decisions, to have a voice and be heard, and to be considered as part of the community,” Sand said.
While Divest-Fest was the product of extensive planning, and was considered a successful event by many, the causes it represented remain important to the members of the organizations and the Our Gustavus group.
“Divest-Fest is a starting point, it’s not kind of the end all be all that we achieve this semester, and starting these conversations we want to make sure we’re continuing the conversations and…. discussion of how we can make Gustavus as a community more inclusive, more positive for everyone who calls Gustavus home,” Anderson said.