Activists throughout 308 colleges and universities, 105 cities and states and 11 other institutions are participating in a campaign to withdraw investments from fossil fuel companies.
Ten institutions, including five colleges and the city of Seattle, have committed to completely divesting in fossil fuels. Leroy Christensen, the president of the Weber State University Environmental Club, said his club hopes to soon approach administration about being a part of this initiative.
The Environmental Club became interested in the divestment initiative when Bill McKibben, an environmentalist who co-founded 350.org, spoke at the University of Utah last December as part of his “Do the Math” tour.
“Essentially what he was doing was giving the nation a strategy,” said Christensen about McKibben’s presentation. “If universities divest, it sends a trend, a shock wave, a tremor, to kind of take away some of the lobbying power and make a statement, and it takes away some of the money power that these companies have to influence Congress.”
Christensen said some of his club members attended the presentation and were inspired to bring the initiative to WSU.
“We decided that this was probably the biggest campaign that Weber State can do to help a national effort; it’s raising our hands and saying, ‘Hey, we want to invest in clean energy,'” Christensen said. “The Environmental Club likes to fry big fish, so we decided to start our own campaign so we can be a brick in the wall in front of the oil companies.”
Jennifer Bodine, a sustainability specialist at the WSU Energy and Sustainability Office, said the office does not take political stances, and this issue seems to her to be of a political nature. However, she said the sustainability office is dedicated to making the WSU campus carbon-neutral by 2050 and that students should be proud of how much WSU has accomplished in this area.
Although the campaign has a lot of support on a national level, Bodine said some students and faculty might have similar concerns.
“Some universities have been concerned about how this will affect their abilities to award scholarships,” she said. “I think there is definitely going to be some skepticism. People are going to want to know how this will affect the university financially and in turn affect them financially.”
Christensen said his aim is to find a way for the university to divest without causing tuition increases or financial setbacks for the university or for students.
Bodine said some universities have found ways to reinvest funds to minimize financial impact and that finding a feasible way to make this happen at WSU will require a lot of research.
Christensen said the most important steps for the initiative at WSU right now is to build support for the concept of divestment and strengthen bonds with administration in order to see if divestment is plausible at WSU.
The club will be partnering with a few other on-campus clubs, such as Greek Life and Animal Unanimity, in planning the Divestment Dance. The dance will take place in the fall semester on Oct. 11. The purpose of the dance is to familiarize people with the concept of divestment in a comfortable setting, Christensen said.
“I’m not sure how receptive students will be, and that’s the reason for the dance,” he said. “We want people to know that we want to find a good solution here, and we don’t want anyone to be left out in the dark.”
Katie Romig, president of WSU’s Animal Unanimity, said she is excited to work with the Environmental Club on this initiative and to help plan the dance, as it will be a good opportunity to bring awareness to certain issues.
“The Environmental Club and Animal Unanimity have similar goals,” Romig said. “This dance will bring certain environmental issues to light, and we thought it would be appropriate to offer animal-friendly food.”
Animal Unanimity has worked with Sodexo in the past to offer food free of animal products in the club’s events. Romig said she hopes to work with Sodexo again for the Divestment Dance.
Christensen said he is interested in bringing in more support from clubs throughout campus in putting together this dance in order to increase support for the cause from students and faculty.
“This is a unique campaign, as it has a lot of support nationwide,” Bodine said. “I’ve been surprised about how excited people get about this issue.”