Fossil Free WashU interrupts Martin’s Parent & Family Weekend event with chants
Fossil Free WashU disrupted Chancellor Martin’s discussion with parents during a Parent & Family Weekend event, Nov 2.
17 students associated with Fossil Free WashU entered Hillman Hall’s auditorium around 10:40 a.m., near the end of Martin’s discussion with parents about the undergraduate experience. Carrying signs and wearing orange patches to show solidarity for the international divestment movement they chanted, “The time to divest is now.”
Fossil Free’s petition for Washington University to divest its endowment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies currently has 2,059 signatures, and the organization has organized various rallies and marches since its inception in 2017.
Fossil Free member freshman Matt Jones used a megaphone to address Chancellor Martin, emphasizing the urgency of the climate crisis and urging Martin to pledge to divest from fossil fuels.
“Chancellor Martin, we invite you to join the student body and peer institutions in helping lead the fight against the climate crisis,” Jones said. “There’s simply no time left to wait. You have the opportunity to be the first chancellor to truly be a climate leader. Please stand with us and take a strong stance by pledging to divest from fossil fuels.”
In response, Martin pointed out his scheduled meeting with Fossil Free WashU in two weeks, stating that he would be willing to discuss divestment at that time, but not during the demonstration.
“I have agreed to sit down with you, and we’ll be talking in a couple of weeks,” Martin said. “I appreciate you all showing up and I’d like to be able to spend some time talking to parents and family.” Martin’s response was met with applause from parents in the crowd.
However, Fossil Free senior member and organizer sophomore Jared Moxley highlighted the urgency of Fossil Free WashU’s goals, arguing that such an important issue cannot be delayed any further and mentioning that Martin cancelled his meeting with Fossil Free in September due to scheduling issues.
“When we tried going through the known channels with our previous meetings with Martin, we have gotten nowhere,” Moxley said. “That means we have to go through channels that aren’t necessarily seen as the proper ways to get change done, which is incredibly important as we are running out of time. According to the IPCC report, we have 10 years left to make drastic changes to our society to be able to continue to survive amid the climate catastrophe.”
Certain parents in the audience disagreed with Fossil Free’s decision to demonstrate during their discussion. When asked by directly by Jones, “Parents, do you want the University to invest in the students’ futures?” a number of parents responded by shouting “No,” “Go away,” and “Grow up and get out.”
After the student protestors left the auditorium chanting, “We’ll be back,” one parent raised the question of how the University is addressing environmental sustainability and climate change. Martin highlighted the University’s leadership in the Midwestern Collegiate Climate Summit, as well as efforts to reduce energy consumption on campus, among other initiatives.
“[We] have many, many faculty members who are working on these issues,” Martin said. “We have, I would argue, the best aerosol group in the world at the McKelvey school. We’ve just hired a number of extraordinarily talented PIs who work on issues of water and water quality. And so through our research mission, we are continuing to give back, to help the environment stand sustainably.”
Regarding divestment, Martin expressed a commitment to discussing the topic with students, but declined to make a definitive statement.
“Some of our students believe that our endowment practices are an important part of that [making the University more sustainable],” Martin said. “That is a discussion that we are in the midst of. And I’ve met with these students. This will be my third or fourth sit-down since I arrived on campus after the first of the year. And it’s an interesting policy discussion for us to have. But of course I’m not going to answer the question on this stage this morning.”
Despite the mixed reactions of parents, Moxley believes that the demonstration successfully communicated Fossil Free WashU’s goals to those in the audience.
“We believe that to really get the undergraduate experience, you need to talk to undergrad students,” Moxley said. “And as far as I am aware, there was no possibility for undergraduate students to talk about the undergraduate experience, so we felt it was necessary to get that message out to the parents, limited as our scope is.”
Looking forward, Moxley hopes that the demonstration will encourage more students to get involved in the divestment movement.
“Right now, the biggest thing we are trying to do is build our network in student power, trying to get more people engaged and get more people willing to and ready to take direct action against the administration,” Moxley said.