By SARAH KINZER & ZAKARIA KRONEMER
When the UMW Board of Visitors rejected the formation of an exploratory subcommittee for divestment, DivestUMW immediately took action. A team of 30 students quickly assembled and flooded the hallway of Jepson Alumni Center to express their disappointment to the board members as they left the building. The footage taken of the exchange between Rector Holly Cuellar and the concerned students was viewed over 15,000 times in just two days and reached over 900,000 users on Twitter through endorsements from organizations such as Greenpeace, Fossil Free, 350.org and the Energy Action Coalition. In the midst of all of this action, there was little time to reflect on whether the decision for immediate and direct action was necessary.
On Thursday, the first night of our now 12-day sit-in, BOV member Theresa Crawley provided us with an answer.
Shoulder to shoulder, seated against the wall in the hallway outside of President Rick Hurley’s office, we watched as members from the Fredericksburg community filed past our sit-in to attend a lecture in the auditorium next door. One of those individuals was Crawley, who has served as a board member for UMW since 2012. After less than a day of civil disobedience, we saw an opportunity to engage with our representative from our governing body and directly represent the voices of the university’s community.
In the five-minute exchange that we had, three things became absolutely clear. First of all, Crawley did not have a clear understanding of what divestment was—she repeatedly asserted that we “just weren’t ready” to transition to other forms of energy on campus. Secondly, she denied the overwhelming scientific consensus that human-caused climate change is a reality—one that will continue to impact millions around the globe. Finally, she viewed the student voice as a nuisance that should be silenced.
This last point was where our “conversation” ended. After becoming noticeably frustrated by our unwillingness to withdraw from the discussion, she resorted to insult: “to be perfectly honest, I think you’re being a pest,” she said as the crowd from the lecture shuffled by. She continued to say, “There’s a difference between your voice being silenced and just getting angry because you’re not getting what you want.”
Though it was dispiriting to our campaign, this interaction truly illustrated the broader issue we face as we pass the 250-hour marker of our sit-in. Crawley’s attitude indicated that her disapproval of divestment is not founded on and understanding of the issue. Instead, her concern is about the source of the proposition itself: the student voice. Rector Cuellar’s rejection of the subcommittee indicates a similar narrative: that the Board does not respect the community of the university it claims to represent.
And now, after 150 people, including students, faculty, politicians, religious leaders and children, have joined the sit-in, after 252 consecutive hours of occupying our president’s office, after 11 campus organizations, our Student Senate and three academic departments have publicly endorsed this historic act of civil disobedience, Rector Cuellar continues to justify her neglect for the widespread concerns of the of the campus community. We hear the same empty rhetoric: we’re already doing enough to address the issue of climate change through our recycling programs and a commitment to LEED certified buildings. As our campus roars in support of divestment, Rector Cuellar continues to plug her ears.
We continue this sit-in with the knowledge that the cards are stacked against us. Our university’s governing body views us not as constituents but as pests. Our concerns are to be entertained but not genuinely considered. The BOV has not taken steps to educate themselves on an issue that has garnered student, faculty, local, statewide and national support.
But we know that we have a right to a safe future, and when the well being of that future is consistently being ignored, we have a right to be angry. We know that, as students, we have a right to have our voices heard, and when our voices are not just being ignored but stifled, we have the responsibility to continue to raise them.
From the Blue & Gray Press Editors-at-large:
This op-ed is a description of the conversation between DivestUMW members and Theresa Crawley as recounted by two members involved. In an effort to confirm claims made, The Blue & Gray Press editorial board contacted Theresa Crawley to seek her remembrance of the conversation. “I said to Zakaria that I thought he was making a pest of himself…The other quote was that he was conflating not getting his way with not being heard and that he needed to learn the difference,” said Crawley.