As Virginians headed to polls Tuesday, students from Divest VCU for Climate Justice, a group demanding VCU retract all investments in fossil fuels, held a rally in the Compass.
The group of nearly 20 students started just outside of Cabell Library on March 1. Students stood in a circle and held signs as others took turns speaking out against the university’s investments in what they said are non-environmentally friendly companies.
“When you take a step back you’ll see that we have all these regulating structures that are allowing these things to happen,” said Aaron Tabb, a member of Divest VCU. “Allowing coal ash to be dumped into our water; allowing more fossil fuel infrastructure to be built.”
Tabb said the university needs “revolutionary, radical” action.
“We no longer have the luxury of wasting time and contemplating all of this, coal ash is set to be dumped in our rivers in eight days,” Tabb said.
Students then marched from the Compass to the Office of President Michael Rao, just a block away on Franklin street, chanting “The power is in our hands, it’s our campus, injustice is not welcome here,” and “hey, hey, ho, ho fossil fuels have got to go.”
Kevin Allison, senior assistant to the president, met Divest VCU students Julia Lang, Michael James-Deramo, Samuel Wright, Ashlyn Davis and Alyssa Mary inside the President’s office, where he sat down with them in a conference room and took notes as the students made their demands.
“We think that as a university that is in our futures we shouldn’t be invested in institutions like Exxon, Shell and Chevron that are putting those futures at risk,” James-Deramo said to Allison.
James-Deramo said Divest VCU wants a statement of support for their organization from Rao, as well open dialogue with the president’s office in the future.
“The administration at VCU should be held accountable for its actions for making itself and its interests transparent to students, faculty, and staff,” the resolution read.
SGA senate vice-chair Sarah Kilmon said she believes Rao should support divestment.
“As a university we need to be more responsible for our actions and this is a really strong step,” Kilmon said. “Divestment is something that is possible, it’s simply reinvesting our money somewhere else. Collectively, SGA all agreed that this is a smart step for our university and our future.”
In an April 2015 interview, then-associate vice president for Finance and Administration Pamela Currey told the Commonwealth Times that VCU’s investments are handled through a group of investment managers, primarily JPMorgan Chase.
“I can’t tell you today what level of investment we have in anything,” Currey said. “As I understand the movement, it’s to divest in the top-200 fossil fuel companies. I can’t honestly tell you how much VCU has in those top-200 companies.”
In April 2015, students at the University of Mary Washington’s chapter of Divest held a sit-in that lasted for 21 days and resulted in the arrests of UMW students Noah Goodwin and Adam Wander. The charges were later dropped.
The events at UMW were followed by protests at universities across the state, including VCU.
Junior Laura Bruce, a member of Divest VCU, said the group hopes to communicate with VCU’s Board of Visitors as it looks forward in the hope of convincing the Board to divest from the oil and gas industry.
“The BOV is not accessible to students, so we are trying all the formal paths we know to try and start a real conversation with our Board of Visitors about socially responsible endowments that reflect the value of students and our university,” Bruce said.
Print News Editor, Fadel Allassan
Fadel is a sophomore print journalism major. He is fluent in English, French and Sarcasm, and he probably doesn’t like you. Fadel enjoys writing about politics and making people drive him to Cook-Out. // Facebook | LinkedIn