UMW revises guidelines for fossil fuel companies, becomes first Virginia university to commit to divestment
By EMILY HOLLINGSWORTH
DivestUMW said on its Facebook page that their presence in the Board of Visitors meeting Friday morning may be the last demonstration the student group ever holds.
They may be right.
On nearly the one-year anniversary of the arrest of DivestUMW members last year, the BOV passed a motion that would make the University of Mary Washington the first institute of higher education in Virginia to publicly declare a commitment to divest from fossil fuels, limiting exposure from Carbon 200 companies from 2 to 4 percent of the UMW Foundation.
President Hurley proposed the motion at the meeting, while close to 45 members of DivestUMW, students from other universities and community members sat patiently in the Rappahannock Grand Ballroom at the Jepson Alumni Executive Center.
Hurley discussed the beginning of the President’s Council of Sustainability’s divestment report, which came after a motion passed by the BOV last April requesting the report.
The report was published on March 10 of this year, which outlines the aim of divestment at UMW. The recommendation of the report was to establish 99 percent divestment from fossil fuel companies, including Carbon 200 companies or 98 percent divestment, the standard used by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The goal of the University now is to keep funds from the UMW Foundation to 96 or 98 percent divested from fossil fuels.
This recommendation was supported by the University Faculty Council and the Student Government Association.
The motion Hurley proposed was to maintain this goal and release a statement making clear UMW’s goals regarding divestment and its involvement in the UMW Foundation funds.
The motion passed, with the majority of the Board voting in favor. Only a few voiced dissent.
While the Board and the President’s Council on Sustainability began last year, the fight for divestment, particularly among UMW students, began much earlier.
The student activist group DivestUMW began its campaign three years ago, according to its Facebook page. Last year, the demonstration came to a head after a 21-day sit-in at George Washington Hall, where two members of DivestUMW and a community member were arrested. Their charges of trespassing were dropped in August by Judge Robert Eric Reibach.
Members who came for the Board’s decision left quietly soon after the motion passed, hugging, cheering and celebrating once they walked outside.
Rabib Hasan, co-chair of DivestUMW, was present during last year’s demonstration and is content with the decision made.
“I think after a lot of push and conflict and immediation and conversation, it ended the way it should,” Hasan said.
According to Sarah Kinzer, co-chair of DivestUMW, the group will plan a celebration on a central location on campus next week, spreading the group’s accumulation of work and its victory to the student body.
“We’re excited to see all of our hard work come to this point,” Kinzer said.
Kinzer said the group will use the last two weeks of the semester to determine what the group will do going forward.
Today had several layers of significance for DivestUMW member and junior environmental science major Adam Wander. Wander, one of the students arrested during last year’s sit-in, was celebrating his birthday in addition to the decision made by the BOV. The decision showed the group’s influence, its ability to create change despite backlash.
“Anybody who questioned the validity of our efforts, our effectiveness,” Wander said. “We have something to say to them.”
The decision could also start a wave of higher education institutions who could also divest.
“We set an example to other public institutions,” Wander said. “Every victory makes it an easier experience.”
Members from DivestUMW were not the only students who attended the meeting.
Sophomore Kendall King from the University of Virginia and Jong Chin, senior sociology major from James Madison University, attended, bringing a megaphone that a few members of the group used while walking toward the Jepson Alumni Executive Center.
The schools had connected through a network that supports university groups who fight for divestment. King and Chin wanted to support DivestUMW in person.
“A victory for one campus means a win for all Virginia campuses,” King said. “We had to be here.”