Upadhyay ’15: Divest Coal: Learning to respect boundaries

Opinions Columnist

Last weekend, President Christina Paxson sent an email to the Brown community informing us that the University would not divest from coal. This was a setback for Brown Divest Coal, a group that has been working to convince administrators to remove the University’s endowment assets in various utilities and mining companies. Brown Divest Coal believes coal is damaging to both the environment and human health.

I don’t question the importance of socially responsible initiatives. It’s undoubtedly important for Brown students to voice our concerns and actively work to combat inequalities, policy failures or immoral practices. But I’d like to highlight a practice of Brown Divest Coal that I observed — one I seriously hope the organization will reconsider in the future.

On Oct. 23, Bank of America-Merrill Lynch hosted an on-campus information session for its wealth management and global banking divisions. As someone interested in the firm, I hoped to use this brief hour and a half to learn more about the firm’s internship program and meet some of the bank’s employees. After the presentation, students were allowed to approach company representatives in what was intended to be a networking session for the internship.

I waited to ask my questions with a group of about six other students surrounding the keynote speaker, a client portfolio and market manager. As I stood there, I noticed a student had begun to ask a question completely unrelated to the internship program, wealth management or banking. The student prodded the speaker about Bank of America’s energy practices, criticizing its investment in coal and asking what they would do to change their policies moving forward. Quickly thereafter, another student jumped in and asked about the CEO of Bank of America, Brian Moynihan ’81 P’14, and his investments in coal as a member of the Corporation.

Let me put this in context. At an event designed to engage students interested in finance, present job opportunities and provide information about wealth management and banking, two “socially active” Brown students spent several minutes discussing the energy practices of the firm with someone whose only job is to deal with client portfolio management. These students somehow expected an employee of a regional wealth management arm to give a meaningful answer as to how a corporation with over $2 trillion in assets was going to manage its energy investments.

These students frustrated me for several reasons. First, they wasted the representative’s valuable time, when he could have been answering our questions about working at the firm. In addition, I was ticked off by how self-important they made themselves seem. Why not consider, for a moment, that these employees took the time to coordinate an event with the Center for Careers and Life After Brown, made the trip to campus on a week day and set aside time to meet students actually interested in the internship program? Was it really that essential to cause visible discomfort to an employee who has absolutely no operational control of Bank of America and to ruin the friendly atmosphere of the ongoing conversation? The obvious answer is no.

I do not intend to disparage Brown Divest Coal’s mission, as out-of-line as those two students’ actions were. But I am trying to point out a broader issue of being cognizant of boundaries and really thinking through what one does in the purported name of good. Two years ago, Goldman Sachs canceled a visit to the University for fear that members of the College Hill Occupy Wall Street movement would disrupt the recruiting session. We are gaining a reputation as a campus that is hostile to anyone from the financial industry.

Completely ignore the fact that it’s disrespectful to both interested students and to recruiters who take time out of their full schedules to travel to Brown. Disregard that it’s absurd for Brown students to suggest they, in the name of clean energy, have a better idea of how a business as complex as Bank of America should allocate its investments and assets than those running the firm. All of this aside, the practice of sabotaging an info session is still a horribly ineffective way to achieving divestment.

Whether it’s for the environment or to reduce executive compensation, pushing your messages onto a few recruiters will never encourage social responsibility. I don’t care what sociological model of change one looks at. No bank will alter its business practices because a few students disturb one of its on-campus events. In addition to being largely useless, these efforts show disrespect for students who are actually trying to connect to firm employees to find jobs in one of the toughest labor markets in recent memory.


Jay Upadhyay ’15 is concentrating in economics.



  1. Without prejudice to the rest of the articles.

    “Why not consider, for a moment, that these employees took the time to coordinate an event with the Center for Careers and Life After Brown, made the trip to campus on a week day and set aside time to meet students actually interested in the internship program? Was it really that essential to cause visible discomfort to an employee who has absolutely no operational control of Bank of America and to ruin the friendly atmosphere of the ongoing conversation? The obvious answer is no.”

    They are paid employees. So in any protest, we gotta wait for the CEO to show up ?

  2. Daniel Moraff says:


    I’m sorry but if you want to go work for a company doing some pretty rotten stuff, you don’t have the right to sit through an info session without hearing about some of it. Those questions aren’t just directed at Brian Moynihan: it’s directed at you and those staffers and everyone who (for whatever reason) has decided or will decide to make themselves complicit in the harm BoA inflicts on our communities. Maybe head down to Olneyville sometime and see just what BoA has done.

    You don’t get to separate that just because the man talking to you is not the man who himself pulls the lever on foreclosures or coal financing.

    “Was it really that essential to cause visible discomfort to an employee who has absolutely no operational control of Bank of America and to ruin the friendly atmosphere of the ongoing conversation?” Yes. BoA and its recruits forfeited the right to a “friendly atmosphere” the minute they started wreaking havoc on Rhode Island and the world.

    I’m sorry you feel that we’re too “hostile” toward BoA and Goldman Sachs on this campus but, you know, the destruction of communities makes people kinda hostile. Consider it the cost of a six-figure salary straight out of undergrad.

    • A Spade, a spade. Alum 2013 says:

      So by this logic can you answer some questions and troubling concerns about Divest Coal,, and your benefactor Tom Steyer?

      1. and Brown Divest Coal:
      What is the relationship between Brown Divest Coal and

      Was the salaried community organizer the nucleus of Brown Divest Coal?

      Does this person teach how to “build communities” and stage protests?

      Does this 350 representative encourage further activism outside of BDC?

      Is the 350 organization promising or intimating increased ranking through further activity?

      Is there a reason why (other than a natural propensity) that the same students involved with BDC are so prominent in all the same boneheaded tactics now?

      Do these students regardless of the damage to Brown’s reputation they cause gain from their exposure as an “activist”?

      Does their “newsworthiness” disruption help them move up the organization or career ladder, to become more like Bill McKibben?

      2. Tom Steyer using to do his bidding. McKibben has called him Daddy Greenbucks…

      Are you aware of Steyer’s previous holdings in Kinder Morgan, owner of the Canadian Transmountain pipeline?

      Did you know he made his $1.4B fortune trading oil and gas and founding hedge fund, Farallon Capital?

      Additionally, do you know he pioneered the “absolute return” investment strategy, one that is ESG and asset agnostic?

      Would you agree that Tom Steyer is a sophisticated financial investor?

      Do you find the timing of his ownership fortuitous given the timing of the protest against prospective competitor Keystone XL (not organized Transmountain!) by BDC through

      Did you know the Transmountain pipeline is the only pipeline in Canada with any access to the US markets right now?

      Why is Tom Steyer backing anti-coal initiatives with negligible environmental impact rather than investment in cleaner energy?

      Does Tom Steyer have financial holdings that would benefit from any perceived drop in coal?

      Does Tom Steyer have a “short” position on coal now?

      3. Do you know “Whose your daddy?”

      Who else other than Steyer are contributing to

      Why does refuse to reveal who is personally donating?

      Why do benefactors wish to remain anonymous?

      Doesn’t the merchandising smack of KONY 2012?

      • I’m waiting for an answer Mr. Moraff. Unless, you do find yourself unable to do so….

        I hope this demonstrates how the analogous action you try to defend based on your ideology is unfair to a recruiter, “the man talking to you is not the man who himself pulls the lever.” Perhaps this can activate the much needed empathy in BDC and other student activists to better approach their causes and appeal to people not as enemies but allies.

        • Daniel Moraff says:

          “Alum 2013”, I don’t really care because Tom Steyer and Bill Mckibben have zero power at this university. I don’t care if Bill Mckibben is on the take from some kind of sinister solar cabal; he’s not harming Brown and he’s not harming Providence.

          And I happen to know BDC people and they aren’t dupes of or its “community organizers.” I also think it’s weird that you say that like a sinister thing.

          And I also also think it’s weird how much more you care about the (mostly imagined, by you) feelings of a Bank of America recruiter versus massive, devastating foreclosures.

    • Liberal Alum says:


      At some point you may want to learn the true, classical definition of “liberal”. It means being open minded and tolerant of other views. From your columns and posts, it seems clear that you are 100% convinced that you are always right and that anyone opposing your points are either complicit with evil and/or are simply wrong. You are young so that is understandable. But to impose those self righteous views (and they are views, not absolute truths) and limit the ability of other students and community members to pursue their own objectives at Brown is the opposite of tolerance and, I will say it, freedom.

      I love the fact that the BDH has your columns. It is great to read so many views on controversial topics. But when you and your ilk aim to shut down others’ ability to express their points or pursue their interests in order that y’all can impose your points and will, then you are far from righteousness from a liberal perspective. Or perhaps your goal is not liberty at all.

      No, it was not “essential” to cause discomfort to the visiting recruiter. That you think that is must be shows intolerance and immaturity. One day you will see and understand this, or perhaps you won’t and you will end up just an ineffective as other who choose the radical, my way or the highway approach to discourse and debate.

      Happy education to you.

      • brown student says:

        Love everything Moraff writes now, hope I don’t become like this when I graduate 🙁

      • Daniel Moraff says:

        Appreciate the appreciation. Due respect, I’m very familiar with the “classical definition of ‘liberal'”. I’m also very familiar with the many failings of classical liberalism, as well as the many many failings of classical liberals to understand how their cherished classical liberalism does not contain the answer to the world’s problems of race and class.

        While you chalk up what’s happened over the past couple weeks to youth and inexperience, maybe remember that the opposition to Ray Kelly was led by community members, many of whom were (I’m guessing) older than you. If you want to condescend to them, fine, but you’ll need a different way of doing it.

        And finally, the main goal of standing up to institutions like BoA isn’t to engage them in “discourse and debate.” It’s to stop them. The comfort of their recruiters is not reason to leave poor Bank of America alone.

    • What exactly has BoA done to Olneyville? Not trying to be contentious, I just don’t know.

  3. Dara Illowsky '14 says:

    As a current member of the Brown Divest Coal Campaign, I just want to clear up a huge factual error in this article. BDC was aware that BoA was coming to Brown, and we made a group decision to NOT be involved in any sort of action against them at this specific event. The students you are referring to were acting either independently or as part of another group, but NOT on behalf of Divest Coal.

    If you write for the BDH again, or any other publication, please be sure to fact check before you base an entire article on unsubstantiated claims.

    • sickofliberals says:

      yeah, im sure. not that it even matters if you read the article as he points to a bigger message and never said they were from BDC. you libs are so annoying.

      • Since the article is titled Divest Coal, Respect Boundaries, the article does rely on the assumption that the students were from Divest Coal. Please do not attack Dara for trying to present the facts of the situation, even if you don’t agree with her views on divestiture.

        “I do not intend to disparage Brown Divest Coal’s mission, as out-of-line as those two students’ actions were”

        How does this not suggest that the students were a part of Divest Coal?

        • sickofliberals says:

          Let me paint this picture more clearly for you
          a) group X pushes forth a message across campus with its demonstrations, etc etc etc
          b) in the week leading to a decision regarding group X’s message, an event Y occurs where two people disrupt Y with group X’s message
          c) a student writes an article about this and says he doesn’t want to “disparage group X” regardless if individuals at Y were part of X or not
          d) some BDC girl comes on here and tries to play fact-checker when there is nothing to fact-check. I would guess that these people are part of BDC since you usually need a school ID of some sort to get into these events. even if X told its members not to do something, doesnt matter if people from X do it or others do it in the name of X

          got it? or do I need to spell the alphabet out for you?

          • I can’t believe I’m even dignifying this comment with a response, but here I go. Here’s the deal: if you write an article entitled Divest Coal: Respect Boundaries, you are implying that Divest Coal was an active participant in the situation discussed in the article. A Divest Coal student commented that Divest Coal actively chose not to have a presence at the event in question. Now, granted, Jay might have not chosen the title; in which case, the error lies with the BDH. I’m not a liberal or a conservative, but I do like factual accuracy, and no, I do not think an incongruous attempt at algebra constitutes a factual argument. I am also not a member of Divest Coal; I was just extremely offended by the pedantic and patronizing way you attacked another student.

          • sickofliberals says:

            get over yourself. this isn’t about you or even BDC. this is a broader problem at Brown which we saw with Ray Kelly or the other incidents mentioned in this article. and how do we really know they werent BDC? seems like a lot of coincidence for someone to get into this type of event with Brown ID and bemoan and echo the exact message of BDC. i can tell a group of 300 kids not to do something or agree as a “group” but if they go out and do it, the group is liable too.

          • Dara Illowsky says:

            Thank you.

          • Dara Illowsky '14 says:

            In response to both sickofliberals and Brown ’95, i have to point out this sentence: “But I’d like to highlight a practice of Brown Divest Coal that I observed — one I seriously hope the organization will reconsider in the future.” I’d say that Upadhyay is pretty clearly assuming these students are acting in representation of BDC, which as I mentioned before, they were not. I do not know who the students are that the author is referring to, but even if they are members of BDC their actions and opinions exist independently of the campaign. Let’s take a more extreme example. Say there was an outspoken pro-life group on campus. One day, a Brown student, acting independently, blows up an abortion clinic. Is the pro-life group accountable for this individuals actions? I would say not.

            No group is accountable for individual actions just because they have started a certain conversation on campus. I also take issue with the assertion by sickofliberals and Brown ’95 that BDC is accountable for these students’ actions because it implies that student environmental activism did not exist prior to BDC, which is disparaging of a long history of activism and discourse around issues of climate change and climate justice.

          • Perspective says:

            I understand the frustration of these people acting in a way that hurts the good name of BDC. I think it puts it in perspective how many people feel about the Ray Kelley incident and the position Paxson has been placed in. I have no reason to believe or assert you were part of what happened Oct 29th, however I know several people heavily involved in BDC and Ray Kelley. I was even promised by one student who has received press that the lecture would happen (funny how that turned out…). It is undeniable the high correlation between the groups.

            While correlation does not mean causation I have to wonder about the paid professional sent by to help Brown Divest Coal. My outside perspective is that this was the beginning of actual student and “community” organization. Whatever transpired from that now appears to be spiraling out of control. Were promises of careers in activism intimated?

          • Dara Illowsky '14 says:

            Let me be clear about one thing: by no means am I saying that I personally condemn the actions described in the article. In fact, I agree with Dan Moraff’s original comment. All I meant to accomplish with my comment was to clarify that this action was not officially endorsed by Brown Divest Coal.

            No, promises of careers in activism were not intimated.

            I am now going to stop dignifying anonymous comments with responses as my intent was never to get into an internet debate, only to clear up a misunderstanding.

          • Its a two way street says:

            So you got asked questions for transparency on your organization and now you’re exasperated? I wonder how one could expect the same of others…

          • Dara, were you there? I was. The students handed to guy a letter and said it was signed “Brown students concerned with the divestment of coal.” I think it’s reasonable to assume the “agreement” you came to wasn’t binding in any way and these students were from BDC. The article doesn’t even trash BDC? It’s about something bigger that goes on at Brown which we saw with Ray Kelly last week.

          • I think it’s entirely probable that they handed him a letter, saying what do you think about this? My ex-gf was in Divest Coal, and I can tell you they spend hours agonizing over every thing that they publish, sign, or attend. I’m going to drop this, but stop attacking Dara. I’m not personally friends with her, but from what I know she’s a very kind and conscientious person. The irony with this whole debate that I’ve been swept up into is that I actually lean more to the conservative side (though I claim political neutrality), and I can tell you that in my conservative household, I would never talk to a woman the way that sickofliberals attacked her. That’s inappropriate and uncalled for, liberal or conservative.

    • Dara,

      You may consider reading this young man’s article again but carefully. I do not see the students being described definitively as members of your group. I see the message of your group and individuals who acted in accordance with its message. Instead of leaving condescending comments about fact-checking and writing, you might take the time to pick up on the complexities of an article. I would not expect someone who leaves blanket, accusatory comments like yours to do so, though, but prove me wrong?


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