After divestment rejection, student leaders forge ahead

Media Credit: Zachary Slotkin | Hatchet Designer

Student activists are brainstorming ways to move forward after a failed attempt to bring fossil fuel divestment to a Board of Trustees vote.

The University will not remove fossil fuel investments from its $1.6 billion endowment, officials confirmed last week. Members of Fossil Free GW said they are disappointed by the announcement and will keep being vocal about the issue in hopes of changing the administration’s views.

In a meeting last week, University officials told members of Fossil Free GW they would not recommend divestment to the Board. Officials cited GW’s historic stance of non-divestment in their reasoning, according to a press release published by Fossil Free GW. GW does not release details of its investment portfolio – like how much is invested in fossil fuels.

Frank Fritz, a member of Fossil Free GW, said the next step in the battle for divestment is to make trustees aware of what he calls “inherent hypocrisy” on the part of the administration.

“When you say all of these things but are still invested in coal, you are making a contradictory statement,” Fritz said. “You are gambling against our future.”

The decision not to divest from fossil fuels comes nearly one year after more than 70 percent of students who voted in last year’s Student Association elections said they supported divestment. Members of Fossil Free lobbied for a month to get the measure on the ballot, turning out in large numbers at SA meetings and watching their bill originally fail over confusion in the wording in the referendum.

Fritz and about 10 other students lobbied trustees outside of February’s Board of Trustees meeting, where he said they found many board members were not aware of the movement or of the referendum results.

“It was a total breakdown of communication between students, through the referendum, and the Board of Trustees,” Fritz said.

Deputy Executive Vice President and Treasurer Ann McCorvey and Meghan Chapple, director of sustainability, met with student leaders multiple times over the past year about divestment. McCorvey and Chapple were originally supposed to announce the University’s stance last fall.

Chapple said in an email that the University does not believe that divestment is the only or best way to address climate change. In June 2014, the University entered a partnership with GW Hospital and American University to derive more solar energy from an energy company in North Carolina, and sustainability has been a major priority under University President Steven Knapp’s administration.

“The University takes climate change very seriously and is well aware of its urgency,” Chapple said.

Chapple said student leadership is instrumental in addressing GW’s environmental impact.

“We value the ongoing dialogue with our students who have devoted a significant amount of thought and energy to these issues,” Chapple said.

A report published last year said that divesting from fossil fuels could hurt universities’ finances. Still, schools like Stanford and Georgetown universities have chosen to divest in the past few years.

Erika Feinman, a candidate for SA president, said at a sustainability town hall event last week that she was disappointed by the administration’s decision.

“I have a serious issue with people taking precedence into account,” Feinman said.

Christina Giordano, another presidential candidate, said the administration’s decision warrants adding a student voice to the Board of Trustees. Putting student representation on the board is part of Feinman’s platform.

“We need to represent what students want,” Giordano said. “As SA president, it’s your job to advocate for what they want.”

Nikolas Michael, a member of Fossil Free GW, said the group will continue conversations with administrators and work with other student groups to push for divestment.

“Our mission going forward is to make ourselves very visible, and to give the students who support this a mouthpiece,” Michael said.

Michael said Fossil Free GW will also reach out to student groups that do not focus on sustainability to show the Board of Trustees that wide swaths of the student body support divestment.

“It would be very productive for us to work with all the communities on this campus,” Michael said. “This is not just our issue. This is an issue that all the students have a stake in.”

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