By HOPE RACINE
On Friday, Feb. 19, members of campus group DivestUMW were granted 15 minutes to present in front of the University of Mary Washington Board of Visitors. The presentation focused on informing BOV members about the intent of DivestUMW, offering suggestions for divestment from fossil fuels and stating their demands.
Lead by DivestUMW members Zakaria Kronemer and Rabib Hasan, the presentation sought to engage BOV members in a conversation. According to members, the overall feeling of the meeting was positive, with some BOV members, such as Ed Houck, showing support for the cause.
“We should take this topic under serious consideration and thought,” said Houck during the meeting. “The fact that we have a topic that is universally before the public, and we have a student body that is willing to devote themselves to this, I hope that we will give this due consideration.”
The meeting was not exclusively attended by DivestUMW members, and other students were encouraged to attend in a show of solidarity for the cause.
“We are representing a university fully of students, and it’s important to not be exclusive,” said junior sociology major Hasan. “We encourage students to attend all our events.”
Senior political science major and president of the UMW Young Democrats Benjamin Hermerding was one non-DivestUMW member who attended the presentation.
“I went because I think it’s important to be involved and support student leadership on campus,” said Hermerding. “Building conversations with the administration is the easiest way to support student voices and encourage future conversations.”
The Blue & Gray Press caught up with two DivestUMW members, Hasan and freshman Maureen Sullivan, to talk about the BOV presentation and their experiences with DivestUMW.
How do you feel that the event went?
RH: I was impressed with the BOV and their interest in our presentation. There was a lot of dialogue between us and them, and we didn’t feel like there was a wall up. It was definitely a learning process for students and board members as we found out about our foundation and investments.
What did DivestUMW present to the BOV?
RH: We went in with specific asks and demands to keep the BOV accountable and have a goal for us and them to reach together.
What were your requests?
– By the next Executive Meeting on March 18, 2015, a subcommittee must be created to begin forming an in depth proposal for divestment.
– That proposal will be presented at the BOV meeting, April 17, 2015, in which an official vote is to be made on UMW divestment form the Fossil Fuel industry.
– Halt any increase of our investments in the fossil fuel industry by the end of this academic year.
– Withdraw investments from “filthy 15” by April 2016.
Do you feel like the BOV was receptive?
MS: One member said that they should meet with us again, and some seemed pretty receptive. It also felt like a learning experience too. There was one exchange where the members were asking each other about the extent of investments, and not all the members knew. It was definitely eye opening.
What do you hope is the largest effect of the presentation?
RH: Forming the subcommittee is the crucial next stop for forming dialogue with the administration and students. If the school wants to truly say they listen to their students, then they need to work on that dialogue, and the committee is a good way to accomplish that.
What did you suggest for achieving divestment?
RH: Obviously the goal is full divestment, but we realize that a large number of school funds are tied up in fossil fuel and cold turkey divesting is not economically feasible. We suggest a five-year process of divesting ending in 2021 because we’re worried for the financial security of the school, and we want to help protect that.
What are the next steps for DivestUMW?
RH: We’re going to continue to put pressure on the BOV for the next meeting for sure. Student voice has been effective so far at holding the administration and BOV accountable, and we want to continue that.
What was the general feeling of the DivestUMW members coming out of the meeting?
RH: It was incredible to see that students are just as knowledgeable and skilled at these subjects. Students definitely have power on this campus, and we need to use it.