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Posted: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 9:07 am | Updated: 5:18 pm, Wed May 21, 2014.

Students focus on alumni in efforts to encourage divestment

Five students from the Students for Renewable Energy (SRE) and Divestment group met with President Bruce Shepard Monday, May 19, to discuss the possibility of Western divesting $1.5 million from the fossil fuel industry in the next five years.

The SRE, Divestiture Study Group and Associated Students are asking Western Foundation Board to commit to a divestment plan by the end of 2014. Shepard suggested moving that decision to the middle of fall quarter due to the urgency of the campaign, said senior Jenny Godwin, president of the students for Renewable Energy.

“We had a lot of really good dialogue, getting on the same page and moving forward in terms of timelines of our campaign,” Godwin said.

At a meeting with the Foundation Board on Friday, May 16, AS President Carly Roberts recalled one board member saying, “We are not taking this issue like a one-term politician,” and are more interested in negotiating long-term solutions.

Getting alumni on board

A rally held Saturday, May 17, was organized to reach out to alumni at the Back 2 Bellingham weekend who donate to Western. The rally was held directly after a presentation given by environmental activist Bill McKibben in the Performing Arts Center.

Over 500 alumni and community members signed pledges to withhold their donations to Western at the rally, Godwin said.

Members of the SRE and divestment group rallied the crowd, stomping their feet in unison and brandishing signs opposing the coal train through Cherry Point, Sakuma Berries and the fossil fuel industry.

“We want to make it really clear to the alumni where their money is going to and draw the line between donating money to the university and supporting the fossil fuel industry,” said James Leder, a student in SRE and organizer of the rally.

Bill and Jenny Young, Bellingham residents of four years, attend Lummi Tribe and farmworker demonstrations and volunteer with the Bellingham Food Co-op. They came to campus to attend Bill McKibben’s speech, but stayed after his presentation for the rally.

“It’s really encouraging [to see] this generation of students gets it,” Bill Young said. “It’s about finding connections and bringing together business to basically form an alternative economy and culture.”

McKibben’s presentation brought attention to ways of bringing the issue home while expanding to a global scale, Jenny Young said.

“It might be good to encourage citizens and the community to divest, not just so that campus does,” she said.

As the rally concluded, junior Andrew Eckels asked students to march toward Old Main and then downtown afterwards.

“We’re going to win this by demanding it and forcing the issue, and not sit down until things change,” Eckels said during his speech. “We’re going to get our peers and friends to join us in this fight.”

Around 50 students, dragging a model coal train behind them, marched down High Street toward the railroad intersection at Maritime Heritage Park. Students held posters that read “None Shall Pass” and “For a Fossil Free Future.”

Looking ahead

At the meeting with Foundation Board of Directors, AS President Carly Roberts opened discussion on the divestment campaign, marking the first time the issue was discussed at a foundation board meeting, which are held quarterly.

“The foundation board members are really committed to listening to students and hearing what students are saying,” Roberts said. “They want students to know that they are listening and are looking at it critically and investing time in to it.”

The Foundation Board will reconvene Tuesday, June 3, for a listening session, where board members will speak with students on how to incorporate divestment in a way that is holistic, detailed, well supported and sustainable, Roberts said.

Divestment will also be discussed at a summer work session on June 15-16.

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