Refuel Our Future, a student activist group calling for the University to divest from fossil fuels, staged a four-hour peaceful sit-in at Garland Hall last Friday, April 21. For the past six years, Refuel has been pressuring the University to stop investing parts of the endowment in fossil fuel companies.
As a follow up to the JHU Forum on Divestment from Fossil Fuels, which took place on April 17, Refuel hoped the sit-in would build momentum and place pressure on the University and the Public Interest Investment Advisory Committee (PIIAC), which will make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees. Refuel called on the University and PIIAC to make a decision on their fossil fuel divestment proposal before the end of the academic year.
Senior Maggie Weese, the president of Refuel, stressed the importance of pushing the University for a timely response.
“We think now is an important time to remind the University that they made a commitment to make a decision on this proposal,” Weese said. “They need to do it. not over the summer when everyone’s graduated and no one is here to be upset if they say no, but now.”
Students chanted “Divest the nest” and “Fossil free’s the way to be” outside of Garland Hall. Upon entering the building, they were met by Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger. Demonstrators sat in a line on the third floor of Garland for four hours during the sit-in.
Refuel handed their list of demands to Shollenberger and University Provost Sunil Kumar. The demands call for the University to construct a timeline of PIIAC’s meetings as well as to produce a report and make a voting recommendation to the Board of Trustees by May 17.
Kumar assured the demonstrators that he would notify PIIAC of their demands. He also said that Refuel would hear back from him “in the next few days.”
Jeffrey Kahn, the head of PIIAC, wrote in an email Wednesday night that their next meeting will be held on May 16 during which they will create a timeline for completing the proposal. Kahn said PIIAC intends to complete the review by the end of the year, but a decision will not be reached by graduation this May.
According to Weese, Kahn said last December that the committee would make a decision before she graduated this May. Weese is concerned that the decision may be delayed because the commitment was not in writing and has yet to be confirmed.
“A big concern that we have is that they’re waiting, like they do with most big decisions, until there is a big gap in school so that way students can’t protest or speak out,” Weese said.
Weese was glad that Refuel has been able to cooperate with the University in making their demands heard.
“I’m really thankful that the provost is willing to listen to us... and make sure [PIIAC] has a timeline. Whether or not that timeline is going to be within a timeline that we think is reasonable is another question,” she said.
Security guards patrolled the area during the sit-in. Sophomore Refuel member Clarissa Chen said that there have been security guards at other Refuel protests.
“Every single time that I’ve seen a protest happen on campus, they always send security guards there,” Chen said. “When we were there on Friday, there was one guard watching us the entire time. I think they want to take precautions, for whatever reason.”
Students held up orange signs that read, “One Month: We are demanding a decision by 05/17/17, one month since the Forum.”
Senior Hannah Lin, a member of Refuel, stressed the importance of maintaining visibility on campus.
“We’re worried that if a decision is delayed into summer, it’ll be difficult for students to make their voices heard since we’re not on campus,” Lin wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “The goal was to have a physical presence that day and show them that we’re not taking silence as an answer.”
Following the Forum held on April 17, Chen believes the University and PIIAC have all the information necessary to make a decision and that the sit-in was meant to hold them accountable for making that decision.
“The forum was supposed to be their final piece of research to make an informed decision,” Chen said. “They should have all the tools necessary to move forward with their decision.”
Chen also pointed out the problems with transparency between PIIAC, the University and Refuel.
“We went through the processes they asked us to go through, and it obviously wasn’t effective enough for them to give us an actual timeline,” Chen said. “As long as the pathways work, that’s great. Since that’s not really the case, we felt we needed to put the pressure on them.”
Weese added that regardless of the University’s hesitation, more immediate action was needed.
“They need to know that they can’t be taking forever because our timeline and the climate’s timeline don’t work on that timeline,” Weese said.
As a graduating senior, Lin hopes that fossil fuel divestment continues to be an important issue on the University’s agenda. She also hopes that Refuel’s actions will have a lasting impact.
“I’m happy that the school seems to be responding more to Refuel Our Future this semester,” Lin wrote. “But now I really want to see the University move forward with what they’ve learned and show their commitment in action.”