Columbia Students Begin Sit-In for Fossil Fuel Divestment
NEW YORK, NY --
Update: 6:12pm. After the building has closed and students were asked to leave, a team of students remains with the intention of staying until President Bollinger meets our demand of a recommendation for full divestment. They are risking potential school sanctions or arrest.
After three years of engaging with administrative channels, over 35 students at Columbia University have begun a peaceful sit-in outside of President Bollinger’s office to demand divestment from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies.
“If the university claims to invest in the future of its students, then the endowment must not be complicit in the destruction that fossil fuel companies perpetuate by fueling climate change,” said Elana Sulakshana, Columbia College junior and CDCJ organizer.
Columbia Divest for Climate Justice (CDCJ) has been calling on President Bollinger and the Board to stand on the right side of history and divest the $9.2 billion endowment’s direct and indirect holdings from coal, oil, and natural gas since the fall of 2012. The administration and its subcommittee on socially responsible investing have failed to listen to the demands already endorsed by over 1,600 student petition signatures and 340 faculty members. 30 members of the Earth Institute, including Director Jeffrey Sachs, recently supported divestment.
“When our decision-makers lack courage, we must ourselves summon the courage to demonstrate what leadership looks like. We have no choice but to fight for the world we want to inherit,” said Daniela Lapidous, Columbia College senior and CDCJ organizer. The sit-in was organized with the support of the Barnard Columbia Solidarity Network of campus activist groups, formed in December.
“We recognize that, in order to preserve Black communities already suffering immensely from the effects of climate change – domestically and abroad – incremental change is no longer sufficient and full divestment is necessary. Columbia's investment in the top 200 fossil fuel companies is representative of their selective support of communities of color and hypocrisy as a seemingly progressive institution that profits from an industry which kills Black and Brown people,” said Liam Riley, Columbia College freshman and organizer with Mobilized African Diaspora (MAD) in the BCSN.
The sit-in also has support from across the street. “I am sitting in because the Columbia administration has left us no other choice by failing to use the administrative channels in place for student advocacy. I sincerely hope Barnard does not do the same in our divestment campaign across Broadway,” said Evelyn Mayo, Barnard junior and Divest Barnard organizer.
This action comes in the midst of a wave of escalatory action by fossil fuel divestment campaigns across the nation. In the past week, four Divest Harvard students were arrested at the headquarters of their investment management company, and over 250 students at University of Massachusetts have been sitting in, with 34 arrested so far. Yale announced that it has partially divested from fossil fuels on Tuesday.
As stated in the formal CDCJ proposal, fossil fuel divestment requires consideration of the same racial, social, and economic inequities that inspired the Board to take leadership by divesting from private prisons. The fossil fuel industry has no foreseeable plans to stop burning carbon in the name of profit alone. By remaining complacent on this issue, Columbia is assisting highly immoral and unethical activities and ignoring a powerful mandate from the Columbia community.