Fossil Free WashU rallies for divestment
Members of Fossil Free WashU rallied to protest against Washington University’s decision to not divest from fossil fuel companies, asking the administration to reconsider their policy March 30.
Last year, Chancellor Mark Wrighton announced that the University would not divest from its fossil fuel investments. The announcement was prompted by a meeting between Fossil Free WashU and the chancellor, in which the student group requested a definitive “public” answer on divestment by Earth Day last year.
Members of Fossil Free WashU and other Washington University students gathered outside the Danforth University Center to make speeches; the group then marched to Brookings Hall, where junior Jessie Thornton spoke outside the administration building.
According to Thornton, a group of students went inside to Wrighton’s office to speak with administration, but the doors were locked. The group’s goal was to ask the administration to take until Earth Day to reconsider divestment.
“We wanted to…reopen the door, basically give Chancellor Wrighton and the rest of our administrators a second chance to reconsider their refusal of divestment by this year’s Earth Day,” Thornton said. “But it wasn’t really a question, it was more of a statement: You have until Earth Day to reconsider divestment. We’ve not forgotten what happened last year, and we’re not going anywhere.”
Although the students were not able to meet with administration, they believe the rally went well. Two members of the Student Green Council made speeches expressing the council’s support for Fossil Free WashU. Also among the speakers was a community member of southern Illinois, Georgia de la Garza, who spoke about the effects of fossil fuels on her community.
“[De la Garza] basically grounded us in the realities that people in her community who live surrounded by coal mines face every single day,” Thornton said. “We are a solidarity campaign…it’s very important to us that we are uplifting people who have to live every day with the effects of fossil fuel extraction and production.”
Other speakers included a representative from 350 STL, an international environmental advocacy group. Members of the Washington University Graduate Student Workers Union also spoke about the importance of transparency within the administration.
Since their meeting with Wrighton last week, members of Fossil Free WashU want to show that they represent the beliefs of a large part of the student body. Sophomore Dugan Marieb explained that a petition was not enough to prove this to the administration.
“[Wrighton] said that he did not believe we represented the general student body. And we asked him how we could show him that we represented it by doing a petition or something like that, and he said that anybody could sign a petition,” Marieb said. “He said we didn’t represent the student body, but didn’t give us a chance to show him.”
According to Marieb, Wrighton emphasized that this was because he had not heard about divestment from students via email, but sophomore Allie Lindstrom does not believe that emails are a realistic way for the administration to judge student opinion.
“He really emphasized emails,” Lindstrom said. “He gave us no options.”
“He seemed frustrated that students weren’t reaching out to him…but is everyone at Wash. U. really sending emails to the chancellor when they have a problem?” Marieb said.
According to Thornton, the group now hopes that the turnout of the rally will draw more attention to the issue, as well as showing the administration that there is student interest surrounding divestment.
“I feel extremely energized by the energy that was brought by the 70 students that joined us,” Thornton said. “This message was not ‘The administration is evil, the administration will never change;’ this message was ‘Students are powerful, our voices matter.’”