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DivestUVA holds rally demanding fossil fuel investment transparency from University

Protestors marched from Rotunda steps to Madison Hall urging University to publish investment data and commit to divestment

<p>DivestUVA leaders and rally attendees marched from the steps of the Rotunda to Madison Hall, where a list of demands centering around fossil fuel divestment was affixed to the main entrance.</p>

DivestUVA leaders and rally attendees marched from the steps of the Rotunda to Madison Hall, where a list of demands centering around fossil fuel divestment was affixed to the main entrance.

DivestUVA gathered on the front steps of the Rotunda Saturday to protest the University’s refusal to provide a transparent report of University funds going towards fossil fuel industries. DivestUVA organized the rally as the December 1 deadline requested in an online petition by the organization eclipsed.

Since 2015, DivestUVA has been pressuring the University of Virginia Investment Management Company to fully divest all its financial contributions from the fossil fuel industry. The group is a climate justice coalition representing student organizations such as the Young Democratic Socialists of America and the Environmental Justice Collective, 

Fossil fuels are non-renewable energy sources such as coal, oil and natural gas. When burned, these substances release large quantities of carbon dioxide that trap heat within the atmosphere, creating the greenhouse effect that contributes to climate change. Fossil fuels contributed to 74 percent of U.S greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. The last seven years are shaping up to be the warmest on record, according to a 2021 World Meteorological Organization State of Global Climate report.

10 percent of the University’s $14.5 billion endowment is allocated to “real assets,” which include fossil fuel companies. In 2021, real assets saw an increase in returns of 49 percent.

The petition requested for UVIMCO, the Board of Visitors and the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility to publish a detailed account of fossil fuel investments by December 1 in a petition circulated last October that amassed over 1,000 signatures. The petition also demanded that the University commit to full divestment by Jan. 1, 2022, and to implement all subsequently required changes by Dec. 1, 2022.

Student Council unanimously passed a resolution Oct. 19 supporting DivestUVA’s efforts, making divestment the official position of the student body.

The group organized at 4 p.m on the front steps of the Rotunda and handed out posters, signs, and pins to participants. Once gathered, organizers ascended the steps and held a “DivestUVA” banner and reiterated the organization’s demands.

Leaders also spoke to the urgency of the climate crisis — particularly for marginalized communities who suffer disproportionately from pollution and unsanitary living conditions. 

Rep. Rand Perry, member of DivestUVA and fourth-year Batten student, highlighted the University’s responsibility to the state of Virginia and the larger community to combat these issues.

“As a public university, we have a duty to lead and a duty to put the people and the planet over profit,” Perry said.

Perry noted 50 peer institutions who have already committed to divestment, including Georgetown University, Syracuse University, Columbia University and Brown University.

Following the speeches, the group marched across the street to Madison Hall. As the rally moved, the group began to chant “What do we want? Divestment! When do we want it? Now!” and “Hey Jim Ryan, the planet’s dying!” After the crowd circled Madison Hall, protestors gathered on the front steps where leaders condemned the University’s lack of transparency. 

Phillip DiMeglio, DivestUVA member and second-year College student, attached a physical copy of DivestUVA’s demands to the front door of Madison Hall. In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, DiMeglio said he was initially unsure how many people were interested in the rally, but was surprised at the overwhelming support demonstrated by the turnout.

“Having this many people, this much support, that big of a voice during chants, was really powerful,” DiMeglio said.

Perry, member of DivestUVA and fourth-year Batten student, pointed to previous student engagement in DivestUVA’s events, such as the organization’s political education discussion in October.

“It’s safe to say that we appreciate the support that we’ve seen from the student body so far, and we look forward to keeping that energy going,” Perry said.

Maille Bowerman, member of DivestUVA and second-year Architecture student, said the group wanted to use the event to show student support for DivestUVA’s demands

“We hope that U.Va. will take ethical and moral consideration into the investments that they make, putting people and our planet over the profit that they can reap from these investments,” Bowerman said.

DivestUVA met with the ACIR board of UVIMCO Wednesday to discuss investment recommendations and the Investor Responsibility Framework that the board will provide by the end of the year. Additionally, with Board of Visitors meetings scheduled Thursday and Friday, the group hopes the rally will influence any decisions made. 

Third-year Architecture student George Ardua explained that despite previous conversations with administration, many members of the coalition feel that not enough progress has been achieved.

“When we talk to administrators, they always tell us, ‘It’s not if we divest, it’s when we divest,’ but the fact that they're not actually taking any action to accomplish this goal is frustrating not only to us, but to the faculty here who are doing research on climate science,” Ardura said. “They’re battling these disinformation campaigns funded by companies that we’re invested in. I think it’s disrespectful to Virginians. This is a public university and yet we’re invested in an industry that is creating so much pollution — it’s a big contradiction.”

In a letter to DivestUVA, Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis said the Board of Visitors is working to address the complex issue of divestment with plans to announce short-term, medium-term and long-term recommendations by January 2022.

“The ACIR is seeking to take a measured, thoughtful approach to ESG that aligns with UVA’s mission and overall sustainability commitments and is consistent with UVIMCO’s fiduciary duty to the University,” the letter reads.

The coalition plans to spend winter break formulating next steps for 2022 and responding to AVIMCO and the ACIR’s new investment decisions for the upcoming year.