Fossil Free GW continues divestment protests outside Board of Trustees meeting

Media Credit: Max Wang | Staff Photographer

Suzanne Cole, a senior in Fossil Free GW, leads a rally demanding the University divest from fossil fuels in Kogan Plaza Friday.

Updated: Oct. 20, 2017 at 10:53 p.m.

About 30 members of Fossil Free GW held a silent protest during a Board of Trustees meeting Friday, urging the University to divest from fossil fuels.

Members of the group gathered in the public viewing area of the meeting wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with the word “divest.” When the meeting was called to order, demonstrators stood up silently and unfurled a large banner.

Protesters left the meeting after speaking with University Police Department Chief Rashall Brackney. Demonstrators walked out after being told holding the banner and standing during the meeting was creating a disruption, the group wrote in a Facebook statement.

In a student-wide referendum in 2015, 72 percent of students voted in favor of removing fossil fuel investments from the University’s portfolio. After the vote, officials said they wouldn’t recommend divestment and Board Chairman Nelson Carbonell declined to say whether or not the Board would act on the resolution.

This is the second time the group has rallied in favor of divestment at a Board meeting. In February, the group chanted outside the meeting and read an ultimatum demanding the University immediately divest.

Nikolas Michael, a senior in Fossil Fuel GW, said he was angered that the University seemed to be more restrictive in regulating the protest but overall he said the rally made a positive statement that the group was going to continue to pressure University leaders on the divestment issue.

“I think that they would have let us stay if they weren’t scared of us, so the fact that they made us leave is a good sign,” Michael said.

After leaving the meeting, some members of the group wanted to start chanting in the hallway, but were told by a UPD officer that they would not be allowed. The group decided to move their demonstration to Kogan Plaza because they said they didn’t want to disobey direct orders from police.

Demonstrators chanted “Listen to the students – Divest now” and “Raise High, Raise Hell” after moving the protest to Kogan Plaza.

After the rally, Michael said one member was barred from entering the Marvin Center because he was still wearing a shirt advocating for divestment. Another member was not allowed to return to the meeting to collect personal items she had left behind, he said.

In previous board meetings, students were allowed to chant in the hallway, as long as they weren’t carrying signs, which officers feared could be used as weapons.

As a result, Michael said demonstrators deliberately did not bring signs and only wore T-shirts and carried the banner for Friday’s protest.

“If we can’t even enter the Marvin Center wearing shirts against the University, what are we allowed to do as students?” he said.

The University can “define the time, place and manner” of on-campus protests, according to GW’s protesting policy instituted in 2011.

Eric Teller, a senior in GW Fossil Free, said in statement that the group was “disappointed that GW’s policy on campus demonstrations has grown more restrictive.”

In February, the University’s top security officials said there were no plans to change policies regulating campus demonstrations.

Sophomore Jeslyn Zakes of Fossil Free GW said the University’s actions made it appear they were opposing the group’s efforts.

“We got our words across, but I feel like they are trying to shut us out and not really taking into consideration what we have to say,” she said.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly spelled Suzanne Cole’s name in the photo caption. It is now correct. We regret this error.

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