Divest Andover, a branch of Phillips Academy Sustainability (P.A.S.C.), delivered a letter to Head of School Dr. Raynard Kington and the Board of Trustees requesting Andover to divest from fossil fuels on November 1. P.A.S.C. promotes sustainable development and climate justice on campus.
“We cannot support an industry that undermines our ideals. Andover asserts that climate change is real, ongoing, and immediate. Accordingly, we must divest. This is our chance to lead the secondary school community—and the world—towards genuine change. Becoming the first high school to entirely divest from fossil fuels would fundamentally advance educational institutions. Let us be the inspiration. As you ask of our seniors: step in, step up, step forward,” wrote Divest Andover in their letter.
According to Alexa Vinton ’22, the head of Divest Andover, the conversation regarding fossil fuel divestment began in the Spring of 2020. However, it was not until this past fall that Divest Andover began to put their goals into action.
“So I brought it up… Spring 2020, when the pandemic started, I started reaching out and seeing what Andover was doing about it, and there wasn’t much conversation so, it has been a thing since Spring 2020, so it ramped up a little bit last year so, in the 2020-2021 school year. But nothing big has happened until this school year,” said Vinton.
There have been groups in the past that have tried to demand for Andover to divest from fossil fuels. Allison Guerette, Campus Sustainability Coordinator and Divest Andover’s faculty advisor, noted a group in 2013 that had similar ambitions. Although few schools have divested from fossil fuels, the urge to do so has grown with recent increased climate awareness. In fact, Vinton cites her friend from California as part of her inspiration for Divest Andover’s campaign.
“I was talking to my friend from home, and she was leading a divestment campaign at her school, and I thought it was really cool. And I thought that it was something that could actually make a difference beyond our community. And we can make a statement beyond our Andover bubble, and I thought it was a way to have a bigger impact than just doing something on campus,” said Vinton.
Micheal Ma ’24, one of the student leaders of Divest Andover, described the prewriting process, which included looking at other educational institution’s letters and proposals as inspiration. While the letter took a lot of time and work, Ma was satisfied with the final product.
“We looked at [Phillip Exeter Academy’s] letter and [Harvard University’s] proposals. And then we started writing, and it took a lot of time and a lot of work, but it came out really well. And also we got in contact and let relevant people know, obviously Dr. Kington and Ms. Guerette, our advisor. Then after we finalized it, we were able to get it to Dr. Kington,” said Ma.
To Vinton, addressing a letter to Dr. Kington and the Board of Trustees is very special. While the experience felt surreal, Vinton reflected on the satisfaction from the work that Divest Andover achieved.
“It didn’t feel very real. It was very anticlimactic handing it over to him, but I felt like accomplished and we started making steps to change, which is very rewarding and it’s very rewarding to write a letter with multiple people and have it be a work that you are actually proud of, and that you worked hard on and it comes to together and the final product is like giving it to them and it feels good to have something proud of that,” said Vinton.
Anticipating a positive reaction from the Board of Trustees, Vinton hopes that the board will be able to see the importance of fossil fuel divestment not only to P.A.S.C., but to the greater Andover community.
“I think they’ll all react in a positive way, I don’t know them too well, so I think depending on their stances and depending on if they support fossil fuels or not, they’ll react very differently, but I think overall, we’ll have a very positive reaction, meaning like ‘oh, these kids are coming together, these students are coming together and actually pushing for something they believe in,’” said Vinton.
However, Ma also pointed out the letter’s foreseeing challengings. While fossil fuel divestment may ultimately be an attainable goal, Ma acknowledges that it is a gradual process that will take time and work.
“I think that it is an attainable goal given how many institutions are divesting right now. I mean if Harvard can do it, we can do it too. Or if any of these major universities can do it, I think Andover can do it too. But I don’t think it’s realistic right now, I don’t think they’re gonna just see our letter and say it’s time to divest. I think it requires more work and more time. I think Harvard, it took them years to convince them to divest. I think it’s gonna be a gradual process, but eventually it will happen because fossil fuels are not sustainable, and we cannot continue the use of them here,” said Ma.