Alum’s Statements of Support:
I have asked the same question in eight different countries over the last eleven months: what changes have you seen in the natural environment? Some of the responses could very easily be attributed to temporary fluctuations in weather or to natural trends. Many others could not so easily be packed into one of these boxes. The truth is that people are worried. Really worried. A furrowed brow or a glance to their children’s children revealed more than their words. The people I spoke with, especially in rural areas, have never heard of climate change mitigation, “clean” coal, or Peabody Energy. They are not necessarily aware that the changes that they are seeing are the symptoms of one of the most insidious examples of distributional injustice in human history.
Thanks to the generosity of the Clinton School of Public Service and a Boren Fellowship, I have been able to better understand the cost of inaction by witnessing the precursors of severe climatic disruption around the world. My work on small, decentralized solar energy projects with the Barefoot College over the last ten months gave me a glimpse of an alternative energy future and my time spent organizing against ALEC-funded legislation in Little Rock showed me some of the barriers that are in place.
Having spent much of my time at WashU between the Environmental Studies and International and Area Studies programs, I try to be careful not to victimize or oversimplify. My experience at WashU taught me that every conflict is wrapped in layers of nuance, complexity, and relativity. It also taught me that at some point you have to shake off the analysis paralysis and take a stand based on what you know.
We know that the climate system is gathering momentum and is already primed to cause serious harm to at-risk populations around the world. We know that we need to rapidly advance the development of alternative energy while reducing our consumption of natural resources. We know that Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, is ignoring this information and refusing to participate in this necessary and inevitable transformation.
We need to act fast – time is our most precious non-renewable resource. This is one reason (among many) why I am so incredibly proud of the Students Against Peabody movement. They are reminding Chancellor Wrighton, Peabody Energy, and all of the people watching that we do not have time for an all-of-the-above energy portfolio and we do not have the patience for propaganda like “clean” coal. Until Washington University formally recognizes this urgency by divesting from fossil fuels and further investing in alternative energy, I will be withholding my financial contributions and trying to persuade others to do the same.
We are watching, Chancellor Wrighton. Please do not let us down.
My name is Harris Engelmann, and I graduated from Wash U in May 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in German Literature and International and Area Studies. My studies and extracurricular activities at Wash U drastically changed my understanding of social justice and human rights issues and altered my outlook of the world and the role that I have been given to affect it in a positive way. My commitment to social change and to understanding the “Other” led me to a small neighborhood of Jewish Ethiopian immigrants in the so-called socio-economic periphery of Israel, where I have been engaged over the past year in a service-learning program exploring the complexities, strengths, and challenges of Israeli society while simultaneously working to create social change among a population that is often written-off as “distressed” or “at-risk.” In the coming months, I will be furthering my commitment to create a more just and equal Israel by serving as Social Justice Fellow for the New Israel Fund, an organization dedicated to creating an equal Israel for all Israeli residents regardless of their ethnic, religious, or socio-economic backgrounds.
It is within the context of this challenging and too-frequently controversial work that I come to stand with Washington University Students Against Peabody. If there is one thing that my liberal arts undergraduate education left me with, it is an understanding of intersectionalities - the intricate ways that issues, challenges, and successes are interconnected. I struggle to find a substantive difference between the way that Peabody and corporations like it treat the citizens of the rural communities that they take advantage of in the hunt for more and more unsustainable resources and the systematic way that rights and opportunities have been denied from Israelis whose skin is the “wrong” color or who call God by the “wrong” name. In reality, these various struggles are one in the same - I am called by commitments, values, and education to stand with all who work to end the oppressions in their lives.
I call on the University that I was proud to call home for four years to live up to the values that it so successfully inculcated in me and thousands of other alumni who are working today to improve and change their communities by cutting its ties with Peabody Coal, by re-investing its endowment in sustainable projects and companies, and by removing Greg Boyce from its Board of Trustees as a demonstration of its commitment to education and research at the highest and most impartial level. Until that day, I stand with the students who are doing what myself and thousands of Alumni were not courageous enough to do and will refrain from all donations to the University that brought so much light and knowledge into my life. I am proud to support Students Against Peabody, a community that makes me truly proud to be an alumnus of Washington University.
My name is Matt Haslam and I graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 2013 with a degree in Biology. I’m currently working at WashU Med doing research in Neonatal Neurology, and in the fall I will be attending UBC in Vancouver for a Masters in Population and Public Health with a specialization in Epidemiology.
I’ve joined the Alumni Against Peabody movement because as a researcher, I cannot in good conscience support “clean coal” research, as no such thing exists. Research aiming to reduce the emission of byproducts associated with coal extraction/burning is admirable in theory, but it’s disingenuous to disguise an inherently dirty practice as “clean” and expect complacency from the community, especially as global carbon levels and temperatures continue to rise. If we’re to make a concerted effort to combat climate change, we need to set an example to others by divesting in fossil fuels and companies invested in maintaining the status quo. Furthermore, as a graduate student going into public health, I cannot in good conscience support a university with such close ties to a corporation actively increasing rates of morbidity in the form of respiratory disease, mining accidents/regulatory violations, ecological damage, and utter disregard for social wellbeing in communities like Rocky Branch and Black Mesa.
Students Against Peabody Energy is standing up for human rights, environmental rights, and the reputation of the University that we all love. Unfortunately, these brave students have in effect been dismissed by the administration as starry-eyed youths, naïve to “how things work” in this country. With it’s first official public statement, Chancellor Wrighton et al have offered trivial gestures of appeasement in an attempt to pacify the growing divestment movement on campus - a thinly veiled evasive tactic that insults the intelligence and mission of those speaking out against Peabody. Having Peabody’s CEO on the board currently sends a message to students, alumni, faculty, and the community that corporations (read as: money) have more political sway in decision making than the people who are supposed to be the foundation of Washu. It’s understood that maintaining a large endowment is important for the University and furthering its groundbreaking research, but surely accepting donations from more reputable sources is preferable to partnering with a company that is well known for causing damage to the environment and communities across the country. I am confident that this movement will be successful, and I trust that the conviction of these students and our community will convince Chancellor Wrighton, Provost Thorpe, and Washington University in St. Louis to be on the right side of history.
My name is Kelsey Johnson and I graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 2013. I currently work for the Center for the Study of Social Policy, advocating for the prevention of child abuse and neglect. In addition to this work, I am pursuing a Master’s of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Through my continued studies, I am also employed as a Teaching Assistant for the UW Human Development and Family Studies Department, and am completing a field practicum at Joining Forces for Families, a local community social work agency.
I decided to join the Alumni Against Peabody Energy movement because I deeply believe that Peabody’s influence at WashU is an embarrassment to the university. In the past decade alone, Peabody was named the “worst of the worst” polluters by Newsweek Magazine, has forced the relocation of Navajo and Hopi Indian tribes across the country, and has distorted democracy in St. Louis by striking down a city-wide ballot initiative that would have allowed citizens the freedom to end taxpayer-funded support of fossil fuel companies. In my opinion, there is absolutely no justification for Peabody CEO Greg Boyce’s appointment to the Washington University Board of Trustees—in fact, I am dumbfounded that he is even welcomed on our campus in any capacity.
Our university is better than this. My Wash U education provided me with a deep sense of civic duty, a strong belief in social justice, and the ability to think critically about how I can advocate for positive change. I am ashamed of Chancellor Wrighton’s continued support of Greg Boyce, and I urge our university to completely cut all ties with Peabody.
I pledge to withhold any and all donations to the university until the demands of the student protesters are met in full. I stand with Students Against Peabody Energy, and I could not be prouder of their strength and conviction in continuing the sit-in.
My name is Melissa Freilich and I graduated with a degree in Classics and Drama, and a minor in Anthropology. Since then, I’ve been apprenticing at Cleveland Play House. I’m pursuing a career as a director, fight director and teacher.
I support the Alumni Against Peabody Energy movement because of the deep love I have for Washington University. Each day I am away, I realize more and more how fortunate I was at Wash U to be surrounded by professors, peers and administrators who convinced me of the possibility for positive change, encouraged me to engage with my community and society, and challenged me to live according to my principles. Washington University is an incredible community that is only possible with the support of an administration dedicated to making a positive impact. I am deeply ashamed that, despite this, we continue to maintain ties with Peabody.
I very much want to support Wash U in any way I can. Although on an intern’s salary currently, I have still managed to save up and put aside money for the institution I love. But until the demands of student protesters are met, I cannot in good conscious fund the university. I stand with the Students Against Peabody Energy and look forward to the day when I can support my school proudly and without reservation.
My name is Chase Ferree, and I graduated from Washington University in 2012. Since then, I’ve been the Boston area, first completing an alternative teaching certificate program and since this past August, teaching high school English in a charter school in Cambridge, MA.
I first became aware of the Students Against Peabody campaign when I read about it on Facebook; some former residents of mine have been a part of this tremendous action that’s gone for nearly two weeks straight. But I might have let the extra noise brush past me, had I not gone back to St. Louis last weekend, seen the sit-in, and felt, first hand, the University’s response. I participate in this campaign, for one, because I cannot stand to see Washington University — the place that helped me develop my own voice — ignore the voices of more and more members of its community. During Alumni Weekend, the school actively took steps to prevent information about the campaign from reaching alumni; at one point, a security guard at an event scolded me for leaving a newspaper (WashU’s own Student Life) on a table at the Alumni Barbeque. In order to be a university that, as ours claims to, listens to the stories of its students and cares about putting its students first, the administration cannot willfully operate without a modicum of consideration of these terms. They also cannot actively try to silence the voices of its community. I committed to not donate any money to a place that silences the students it claims to support.
Since making my pledge, though, Chancellor Wrighton and the University have gone even further to push me to speak. In a response last week to a letter from Adolphus Pruitt, the President of the St. Louis branch of the NAACP, that addressed legitimate concerns of the inequalities perpetuated by Peabody Coal on the African American community in the city, the chancellor patently avoided the issue at hand. As an ostensible consolation, he suggested that the University’s sponsorship of three St. Louis area charter schools was enough to mitigate the tremendous inequalities in St. Louis, and by extension this country. Whether this indicates a significant lack of insight on structural inequality or a simple blind eye directed toward it, I do not know. But to even suggest that sponsoring a few schools works as a counter to the University’s involvement with Peabody feels like slander to those who struggle with challenging these inequalities every day and, more significantly, to all of the graduates, past, present, and future, of Washington University who have experienced these inequalities first hand (perhaps even perpetuated by our own institution).
I feel so heartened to see the momentum this campaign has gained over the past two weeks, and eagerly await the moment when Washington University in St. Louis chooses to cut its ties with Peabody Energy.
My name is Julia Langer, and I am a PhD student in the psychology department. Because I have my Masters degree from Wash U, I am technically an alum, and I have received many calls lately from Washing University’s alumni office asking for donations. The onslaught of calls has coincided with the Students Against Peabody sit-in.
A university should be a place where students and researchers are free to pursue knowledge outside of corporate influence. However, Washington University’s relationship with Peabody threatens the school’s ability to contribute to scientific advances in an unbiased manner. As a graduate researcher, I find this to be unacceptable. The presence of the “Clean Coal Consortium” shows that any money we take from Peabody threatens the integrity of the school. How can the scientific community and the community at large trust research from Washington University when we use deceptive language such as “clean coal?” It is incredibly hypocritical for Wash U to teach me to conduct my research in an objective manner when the leaders of the school have a cozy relationship with a dirty coal company that is responsible for poisoning people and displacing them from their homes.
Until the Chancellor meets the demands of Students Against Peabody, I will withhold any financial support to Washington University. Further, until these demands are met, I will feel ashamed of the Wash U administration. However, the student sit-in makes me very proud of Wash U’s students and should the chancellor choose to value human lives and academic freedom over money, I would once again be proud to call myself a Wash U alum.
Cassie Hamrick received her BFA degree from Washington University in 2009. She currently advocates for minoritized populations through art and activist pursuits in Chicago, IL. Alongside her work in sculpture and experimental performance, she seeks to address issues of violence through intersectional and trauma-informed community practice. Cassie will begin working toward an MA in Art Therapy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Fall 2014.
"I am embarrassed by and ashamed of the sneaky, selfish politics that often play out in the administration of Washington University and other private institutions. However, #StudentsAgainstPeabody and #AlumniAgainstPeabody have made me incredibly proud of my community. I am inspired and motivated by the work my peers have contributed, and the outpouring of support and solidarity our movement has received. Thank you brave students and alumni!"
My name is Vanessa Hildebrand and I completed my PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology at WashU. Since finishing the program, I’ve held the position of Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland. I am continuing to conduct research in Indonesia related to maternal health practices, midwifery, knowledge transmission, and global reproductive health policy. I’ve also become increasingly involved with women and children’s health policy and programming issues in the United States by serving on the board of trustees for several national organizations.
I joined Alumni Against Peabody for three reasons. First, to register my complaint that Wash U is entangled with Peabody Energy Corporation, an organization that is perpetuating unethical ecological and labor practices, not to mention out-right banditry. These offenses are well described by others, including several people from the Wash U Department of Anthropology. The second reason is to recognize and encourage the students who are doing the hard work, organizing and protesting outside of Brookings Hall. They are representing the many of us who cannot be there in body. Third, I want to encourage other alumni to support this important demonstration.
Setting out to make change takes a great deal of courage; it is also one of the most important actions that we can undertake with our Wash U educations. Change is nearly always resisted, even when it is clearly for the better. People are generally fearful of difference or of taking an alternate course of action. The corporate interests in this case are clear on both the part of Peabody Energy Corporation and Washington University. Repackaging the same extractive industry, with a long history of environmental devastation, the poor treatment of both workers and neighbors, is just repackaging – there is no such thing as “clean coal.” The data show us that to really find clean energy we must investigate and develop new options that might not have been discovered yet. Why not have Washington University lead the way on that front, rather than lag behind technologically and ethically, holding on to what we already know is destroying our home?
Protest, insisting on change, is risky. Not only does it suggest that the better way is a path unknown, it takes personal courage to speak against momentum and accepted ways of being. We honor as heroes those in our past who stood out from the crowd and did the right thing. It is our job to support these students who are working in the present to make our future better. As students at Wash U we learned about the careful analysis of data, planning, persistence, and timing. Let’s use these skills to help Wash U become a better institution by divesting from Peabody Energy Corporation.
Alums, do you want to show your support too? Sign the petition below and share your statements of support with #StudentsAgainstPeabody
Over the past five years, Wash U and Peabody have had a cozy relationship that involves the Peabody CEO, Greg Boyce, his position on the Board of Trustees, and a $5 million coal industry funded research program dishonestly named the Consortium for Clean Coal Electricity. Over the past five years, students have been calling for an end to this relationship, by meeting with the chancellor and staging multiple peaceful protests. After 5 years, students have escalated their tactics, as they feel that is the last resort to standing up to what is truly needed to preserve the integrity of our institution. Be sure to read this account from one of the sit-in organizers describing why she is sitting in.
As Alumni of Washington University, we have a great power to support these brave students in their efforts to keep our beloved alma mater the highly respected academic institution that it should be.
What you can do to show your support:
1. Sign this petition and share why you support Wash U cutting ties with Peabody Energy.
2. Call the Alumni Annual Fund office and let them know that as an alumni, you will not be donating to the university until Wash U cuts its ties with Peabody Energy. The phone number for the Alumni Giving Office is 877-215-2727.
3. Like Wash U Students Against Peabody on Facebook, and upload a photo of you with a sign that says “Wash U: Cut ties with Peabody.” Use the hashtag #studentsagainstpeabody.
4. Share this page with all of you fellow WUSTL alumni, with a note as to why you think this is so important.