The faculty of the Rhode Island School of Design voted unanimously in favor of divesting from fossil fuels at a meeting Wednesday.
Though the faculty vote does not translate immediately to divestment, it could put pressure on the RISD Board of Trustees to work to divest from fossil fuels, said Anne Tate, chair of the faculty steering committee, which runs RISD faculty meetings.
Divestment has been a topic of campus debate since November, when the student group Divest RISD formed and began advocating administrative discussion about divesting from coal, said Emma Beede, a RISD student and founder of Divest RISD.
Beede worked with fellow members of the campaign to petition students and speak with the Board of Trustees, she said. The group’s efforts culminated in a presentation that Beede gave to the RISD faculty at a meeting last month.
An informal show of hands at the meeting revealed an almost unanimous opinion from the faculty in favor of divestment, she said. Over the next month, Divest RISD filed a motion to hold a formal faculty vote on the record.
“There was very little discussion,” Tate said, adding that Beede’s presentation in February presented a logical argument and a reasonable request of the institution.
Tate attributed the faculty’s unanimous opinion to an expression of unity and student support and faculty members’ beliefs that divestment is a wise choice in light of the threats presented by climate change.
“It’s a great opportunity for RISD to be a leader in this movement,” Tate said.
“(This vote) means that we’re seeing student activism for the first time,” Beede said, adding that RISD students have been restrained about activism in the past.
“Climate change is just the thing to bring us out of our bubbles,” she said.
Beede said the next step is to get a vote from the RISD student body. She added that Divest RISD has collected around 200 student signatures through its petition efforts.
“We’ve been focusing on the faculty mostly,” she said. “So far it’s been a low-key student campaign.”
Beede said Divest RISD’s partnership with the Brown Divest Coal campaign has been instrumental and will continue to be important in the months to come.
But Brown and RISD have “very different battles,” because RISD is a much smaller institution, Beede said, adding that Brown activists face many more obstacles in their campaign.
Nathan Bishop ’13, a member of the Brown Divest Coal campaign, said the group is thrilled about the RISD faculty vote, adding that it is “a wonderful step forward” for the community.