My fellow students, faculty and alumni,
I write this letter as your Student Government vice president, a fatigued student and a concerned member of our community. As vice president of the SGA, I have presided over the Student Senate for the past two years, engaging with students, faculty and administrators in order to voice our issues as students to our leaders. Your voices matter to me.
Nevertheless, our leaders in the administration and the Board of Visitors have made it explicitly clear that our voices don’t matter to them. The DivestUMW campaign, which began in order to pressure our administration and leaders on the BOV to withdraw our investments from the fossil fuel industry, started a direct-action, non-violent sit-in more than 14 days ago to show the board and our administration that student voices do matter, and that we will not allow our voices to be actively silenced.
Despite two years of conversations with administrators, despite historic acts of civil disobedience, despite the signatures of more than a quarter of the student body and a third of our faculty, despite public endorsements from President Hurley and his democratically-elected Council on Sustainability and now despite more than 14 days of civil disobedience, our administration has yet to take a firm stand in support of divestment and, therein, the voices of the student body. The BOV has yet to even respond.
According to the mission statement of the university, “We fulfill our mission…by inculcating the values of honor and integrity. UMW graduates are models of…responsible leadership, service to others, and engaged citizenship in a global and diverse society.” Yet this model of “responsible leadership” in a “global society” is not being illustrated by our leaders on the board who refuse to listen to our voices and take a stand with us in defense of our ethical values as an institution.
Let me be very clear. There is no neutrality when it comes to climate change. As an institution that prides itself on the values of honor and sustainability, we either take a stand against the immoral industry of our time, one which continues to profit from the destruction of our futures and the lives of the marginalized across the world, or we don’t. By not taking a stand and withdrawing our investments, we continue to actively support the fossil fuel industry, giving them the social license to continue profiting off this destruction while offloading all of the cost onto us.
In his 1841 essay “Self-Reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.” We cannot continue to capitulate. The fossil fuel industry is a dead institution and is bringing our future down with it. Failure to take action is failure to embody the values we claim to uphold.
This letter is a call to action. Divestment is not fringe; it is not radical. It is rational, it is sane, it is necessary and it is inevitable. It is frightening that our administrators refuse to take a stand in defense of our values. This is not leadership in a global community; this is fear and abdication of moral responsibility, and that is not what honor means to me.
We all have to make a choice, and we have to do it now. Either we show our leaders that we will not be silenced or we accept that our voices no longer matter. We cannot be afraid, we cannot be reluctant, we cannot be silent.
I implore you, my peers and my mentors, join us in taking a stand to defend our community values and let your voice be heard. Your voice is all that matters, for “nothing is at last sacred,” Emerson writes in “Self-Reliance,” “but the integrity of your own mind.”
Your Student Government Vice President
Nate Levine is a senior at the University of Mary Washington