A number of Oxford colleges have expressed solidarity with protestors campaigning for “direct action for divestment” at St John’s College.
Two weeks ago, students across the university took to St. John’s front quad for five days, camping out in protest against the college’s investments in Shell and BP, and to demand the declaration of a climate emergency from the college. St John’s currently invests £8.1 million in these companies, which are actively starting new fossil fuel projects that finance misinformation campaigns.
In addition to this, hundreds of graduates have signed a letter to St John’s College urging them to cut ties with the companies, while Oxford alumni have threatened to withhold financial support for the college should they continue their relationship with Shell and BP.
St Anne’s College was one of the first to communicate their support for the protestors at St John’s, passing a JCR motion on Sunday which stated that: “The climate crisis is a real existential threat, and an Oxford College has a duty to its members not to support companies which threaten the climate and fund misinformation campaigns.”
The motion went on to say: “St John’s effective punishment of students involved in the action is an abuse of power that is reactive to the threat that activists present to an entrenched financial system.”
This claim comes as a response to St John’s treatment of a number of student activists. It is reported that some students of the college had their keys temporarily deactivated after they were involved in the occupation. The college also reportedly cut off supply lines into the college, making it difficult for protestors to get food.
The St Anne’s motion states that although the college eventually agreed to meet with student protestors to discuss divestment and the occupation ended, this “doesn’t excuse or diminish the cruelty with which the college treated the students during the occupation.”
St Anne’s JCR has pledged to show their support for the actions of members of Direct Action for Divestment (DAD) , and to send a letter from their JCR president to Maggie Snowling, the President of St John’s college, and Andrew Parker, the Principle Bursar, expressing their support for the protestors and asking St John’s to “cooperate with the activists on their demands in the ensuing talks.”
Oriel College also proposed a motion to send a letter to the college’s President and Principle Bursar on behalf of their JCR. In the minutes from their meeting, a message from St John’s JCR president was read out stating that: “the whole College is pretty much on lockdown as the front entrance and several side entrances are closed – we have to enter College through a small turnstile, which isn’t ideal, especially for students with disabilities.”
The president’s message went on to add: “In any letter I end up writing to College, I reckon I’ll say something that the JCR supports the campaign to divest from fossil fuels, whilst supporting the right to peaceful protest, but also asking that College be better prepared to deal with this should it happen again in the future.”
The JCR motion sparked debate at the Oriel meeting, with some arguing that activists had not followed the procedure which would best encourage the college to divest; students brought attention to the disruption this might cause to those completing their final year studies, and called the process which was undertaken by the activists “dangerous.”
The motion has since passed with 30 votes in favour, and 20 against.
New College JCR have also raised the issue. New’s JCR president Josh Attwell stated that: “While I support divestment, I would like my letter that this motion wants me to send to show awareness that College needs a longer time scale to work on big things like this. We want them to still cooperate on divestment, as we understand how hard this change is.”
The New College motion passed on the 3rd February through online voting.