By JONATHAN POLSON
Following the denial of Divest UMW’s request to speak before the University of Mary Washington Board of Visitors, the group exhibited student outrage through a widely shared Facebook post. In response to the widespread reaction, the BOV offered the group 15 minutes to present their concerns and goals at the next meeting, scheduled for Feb. 19-20.
Divest UMW is a group dedicated to urging the University’s divestment from companies that profit from the use of fossil fuels.
According to Divest member Sarah Kinzer, the group recently emailed Chief of Staff and BOV Clerk Martin Wilder and University President Rick Hurley requesting the chance to give a 30-minute presentation before the Board. The BOV denied this proposal, instead offering that the group speak through the Student Government Association President Samantha Worman, who gives a presentation to the BOV on student affairs at each of their meetings.
In a response to the BOV’s denial, the group wrote a letter to the Board, which Kinzer provided to The Blue & Gray Press. The letter notes that speaking through the SGA president last spring “did not appropriately reflect the complexity and urgency of the issue and did not evoke the consideration necessary for a topic with such widespread student concern.”
The group also stated in their letter that the BOV’s denial of their request “clearly shows that the BOV does not have the intention to actually hear out the voices of DivestUMW and more than 1,000 of our peers. Instead, it shows that our voices are being dismissed.”
In the Facebook post, the group announced to students that the BOV had dismissed their “request to allow for a presentation at their next meeting that would appropriately reflect the significant concern that our student body is expressing.”
The post, published on Tuesday, Jan. 27, was accompanied with a birds-eye view picture of the campus, edited with a red “x” over seven buildings. The text on the picture read, “Today, the Board of Visitors dismissed the voice of 1,036 UMW students. That’s the equivalent of all the students living in Mason Hall, Virginia Hall, Randolph, Bushnell, Willard, Jefferson, Westmoreland.”
The group also stated, “Big plans are in the works to ensure that the BOV knows that the students are not stopping.”
Following the Facebook post, the group received an email from the UMW Administration to meet with Hurley and Wilder. According to Zakaria Kronemer and Rabib Hasan, representatives of the group met with administration members Wednesday morning and were then offered 15 minutes to present at the next meeting.
The group will speak as part of Worman’s normal presentation before the board, according to Wilder.
“The student BOV representative, Ms. Samantha Worman, has a regular segment on each Board meeting to provide updates and to make the Board aware of any issues of student concern,” said Wilder. “She may use that time in any way she believes appropriate to bring forward information, issues, or concerns that are relevant to the student body of UMW. In this instance, Ms. Worman plans to provide DivestUMW an opportunity to present information during her portion of the meeting.”
Kronemer and Hasan stated that while the group is excited for the opportunity to formally air their concerns, they want students to remember how this achievement was reached and they want the BOV to understand the passion behind that action.
“For us it seems this response is directly correlated with the fact that they didn’t like their image being compromised with our visuals,” said Kronemer. “We really want the BOV to take this with a genuine sense of care and genuine attention,” not in order to “pacify our voices.”
Wilder stated that “members of the Board of Visitors are respectful of the concerns of DivestUMW and look forward to receiving the information.”
Kronemer noted that students should realize this progression in the group’s campaign came about through the power of student voices.
“What was shown through our efforts this week and results that we got this morning is that students’ voices are powerful,” said Kronemer. “We want to continue to bolster student support for Divest, and we want to continue involving students through this informal process.”
According to Hasan, Divest UMW is organizing a march across campus on Feb. 13, six days before the BOV convenes on the Fredericksburg campus for their meeting. Hasan said they anticipate around 200 students from nine different Virginia campuses to come together for this march, which will coincide with a global day of action advocating for divestment.
Kronemer stated that the goal of the march is to convey the amount of support and solidarity at UMW behind the goals of Divest and to show the BOV the amount of concern that should be placed on this issue.
“We want to display [this] by uniting to voice our concern for the investment in an industry that is directly harming the future of our students and harming the communities that we live in,” said Kronemer.
This year, the group’s immediate goal is to get the University to divest completely from coal, a “first step and a pragmatic step” in the group’s ultimate goal for all fossil fuel divestment, according to Hasan.