Student Activism Spurs Bank Shift

Last October, students and other community members concerned about the environmental and human rights impacts of the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline urged Marlboro College to divest from TD Bank, where all of the college accounts are held. After a resolution passed overwhelmingly by Town Meeting, the administration began researching other alternatives and the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to transfer all college funds to People’s United Bank, effective in May.

“This is a valuable lesson in activism and a sterling example of Marlboro’s community governance in action,” said President Kevin Quigley. “Although we had banked with TD for many years, and switching was not a simple matter, we heard the concerns of students, faculty, and staff, and responded according.”

“I am very pleased with the outcome,” said Helen Pinch, head selectperson. “Obviously, all large banks are complicit in one thing or another, but I’m very glad that the institution has taken this large step towards aligning our ideals with our practices.”

Concerns about the controversial pipeline, and an outpouring of support for those demonstrating against the project, was stimulated by three students and faculty member John Willis who visited the Standing Rock Reservation in September. There were information sessions, presentations, and community drives for tents, sleeping bags, winter gear, and other needs of the water protectors camped at Standing Rock. The Town Meeting resolution was the most institutional response that came out of these growing concerns.

“I think the college has made the right decision, divesting from TD Bank,” said senior Ben Rybisky, one of the students to visit Standing Rock in support of the water protectors. “TD Bank’s funding of the Dakota Access Pipeline has proven their dedication to environmental degradation and profits over human rights and tribal sovereignty. This philosophy does not mesh well with Marlboro College and its students.”

“I was very pleased when the students raised the issue and Town Meeting supported the resolution,” said John Willis, professor of photography, who spent much of his fall semester sabbatical at Standing Rock. “The movement was founded on the concept of protecting the water and environment for future generations. It was a plea to consider the environmental impact energy use has over the long run, rather than only acting for immediate profit. It meant a great deal that Marlboro College has taken a step to join the movement.”

The choice to move to People’s United Bank, a community-based, regional bank located in the Northeast, was not taken lightly by the college. In Vermont, People’s invests in affordable housing projects, for example, including the Red Clover Commons housing facility recently opened in Brattleboro for seniors and residents with disabilities.

“Like Marlboro College, People’s United Bank considers itself to be an important part of the local community,” said Debbie Boyle, senior vice president for commercial banking. “We live here, raise our kids here, serve on various local boards, and participate in volunteer activities. The employees at People’s United Bank are very pleased to be partnering with Marlboro College.”