Graduate Workers Union, Fossil Free protest Saturday
Members of the Washington University Graduate Workers Union and Fossil Free WashU held protests at Brookings Hall and Anheuser-Busch Hall Saturday. The two groups collaboratively advocated for guaranteed summer funding for graduate student researchers and for the University to divest from fossil fuels companies at both of the events.
The groups previously collaborated over a demonstration when they delivered approximately 500 valentines to Provost Holden Thorp’s office in early February, asking for guaranteed summer funding, revisions to graduate students’ healthcare policies and divestment. Following that, the graduate students received a decrease in out-of-pocket maximums and gained a subsidized dental insurance policy.
“We’re doing two actions today to really show that we’re serious about our demands and we’re serious about divesting from fossil fuels and reinvesting education,” fifth-year Ph.D. candidate Sarah Siegel said. “We’re hoping that today we get a lot more visibility and we’re hoping that the administration sees what we’ve done today and that they need to give us summer funding and they need to divest from companies which deal with fossil fuels.”
The first protest started outside Brookings Hall, where participants planned to interrupt Executive Vice Chancellor Hank Webber’s tour of the East End Transformation to alumni.
The demonstrators then marched to ThurtenE Carnival where they passed out flyers detailing their demands of the administration. A central concern for the groups was guaranteeing graduate student funding, because not all students know if they have received funding for summer research.
“If the University is really trying to push for us to finish in our allotted time, we need to be able to have money over the summer to do our work and not have to stop and get completely separate jobs just to pay our bills for three months,” Siegel said.
For members of Fossil Free WashU, broad messaging of corporate divestment was key.
“[Our messaging goal] is just reiterating to Wash. U. that it’s time to divest. You can’t ignore us any longer: We’re going to make sure you hear us,” sophomore Kristen Riedinger said. “It partners with [Washington University Graduate Workers Union’s (WUGWU)] message of saying rather than investing in fossil fuels, we should be investing in teachers and graduate students.”
The second protest interrupted the class of 1993’s “25th Reunion Class Party and Recognition Ceremony” that evening when approximately 50 undergraduate and graduate student protesters entered the Law Cafe of the Anheuser-Busch Hall.
“It was great because there were a lot of alumni who just immediately started clapping. They saw who we were, they heard us yelling and, there was cheering,” sophomore Allie Lindstrom said. “There was some booing too [because] I’m guessing this is a wealthier group of alumni because they’re paying to sit with the chancellor and eat shrimp cocktails, but it felt supported.”
The group planned to chant for eight minutes to symbolize the $8 billion the University has invested in fossil fuel companies, according to organizers of the protest. However, security was called and participants exited the event before eight minutes were finished.
“I think a lot of the alumni were clapping along with us, and it was really nice to see that a lot of them really do care what the current students have to say. And I think the administration should follow the alumni’s lead in that sense,” Siegel said. “I think some of them were taken aback [and] some of them were excited to see activism come back to campus.”
According to Siegel and Lindstrom, the events were the result of “unsuccessful” conversations with the administration.
“We don’t get our goals achieved because we had a meeting with the chancellor,” Lindstrom said. “This is us saying that, ‘We can shut down these events, and if you don’t meet our demands, we will show up again.’”
Wrighton, however, feels that the University is taking action in regards to their interactions with fossil fuel companies.
“Regarding the call to divest of fossil energy investments, last year I shared that the Washington University Investment Management Company decided that it would not use the investment of the endowment to achieve social or political agendas,” Chancellor Mark Wrighton wrote in a statement to Student Life said. “I will ask that this policy be reviewed at a meeting of the Board of the Washington University Investment Management Company.”
Both affiliates of Fossil Free WashU and WUGWU feel optimistic about the outcomes of the day’s events.
“We’re not going to give up just because a security guard was a little too aggressive or because we didn’t stay the full eight minutes,” Lindstrom said. “I think we made our impact and they won’t be able to derail us.”
Wrighton, who was a featured speaker at the class of 1993’s event, expressed support of student engagement on campus.
“It is rewarding to me to have talented students who care deeply about important issues such as the quality of the student experience at Washington University and the global environment,” Wrighton wrote. “With respect to the quality of student experiences, we remain committed to providing each student the very best experience possible, at the undergraduate level as well as at the graduate and professional level.”
According to representatives of both groups, they plan to continue escalating the scale of their demonstrations if they don’t have the opportunity to engage in productive conversations with members of the administration.
“Depending on their response, we’ll show up to more events,” Lindstrom said. “They’re going to be events where we know that it’s important to the administrators that they’re successful and it’ll be events we can show student strength and that students care.”
“Our whole message was, ‘We’re here, we’re not going away. We demand guaranteed summer funding for all graduate students and if that demand is not met we’re going to keep doing these direct actions all the way through graduation,’” Siegel said.