Refuel Our Future (Refuel), a student-led fossil fuel divestment campaign, organized a rally in front of Gilman Hall on Tuesday afternoon, demanding that the University fully divest from fossil fuels. Their protest responded to the Board of Trustees’ decision last December to divest its endowment from thermal coal companies.
The rally drew over 40 demonstrators, who held signs reading “Divest the Nest” and shouted slogans like “no more oil, no more coal, full divestment is our goal.” Members of Refuel and Students for Environmental Action (SEA) gave speeches, and Refuel shared an online pledge asking students, faculty and alumni to withhold donations to the University.
Refuel had hoped that the University would follow through with the recommendations from the Public Interest Investment Advisory Committee (PIIAC) which were released in September. PIIAC recommended that the University “terminate all direct investments” in Carbon Underground 200 Companies (CU 200), which are leaders in industries that include fossil fuels aside from thermal coal such as oil and natural gas.
In a speech at the rally, Refuel President Atlas Elawad said that the Board’s decision was “not acceptable.”
“We’re not going to stop here,” Elawad said. “We’re not sitting on this victory. We need to continue to push, stay active, stay engaged so we can realize our ultimate goal of having the University divest all of its assets from all fossil fuel industries.”
Refuel member Clarissa Chen also expressed her frustration with the Board for failing to meet Refuel’s demands.
“This fight has been going on way too long at this school. It fucking sucks,”
she said. “It’s been six years of doing research, of us rallying a bunch of students for support and of us negotiating with the administration.”
While Elawad felt that attendance would have been greater if they had scheduled the event over the weekend, the rally was purposely scheduled to coincide with Global Divestment Day.
“Divestment is a global movement. We are not alone,” Elawad said. “This is one small part of a much larger machine that’s trying to get institutions to divest from the fossil fuel industry.”
Chen said that she had initially expected fewer demonstrators and that attendance was as good as it could have been on a Tuesday afternoon.
“The people who came were super passionate,” Chen said. “Having everyone there — especially when students were walking on the quads — was so impactful. We were able to project our voices, and it echoed, and people heard us and knew that we were there.”
The rally was Refuel’s first public demonstration since PIIAC made its recommendations. Refuel member Morgan Balster, who co-authored an op-ed in The Baltimore Sun in December criticizing the Board’s decision, compared the rally to those held in previous years.
“This one is a little more angry. Before, we were always working within the system, and the system failed us,” Balster said. “The school used [divesting from thermal coal] as a PR spin to try and shut us up while still looking good.”
Elawad said that the Board’s announcement and a subsequent email from University President Ronald J. Daniels misled many of their supporters into thinking that the Board’s decision satisfied Refuel’s demands.
“I got so many congratulations texts on the day that the Board released their decision, because people assumed that the divestment was complete,” Elawad said. “They didn’t fully understand the implications of the Board’s decision.”
Lalit Varada, a member of Refuel, said that the University divesting from thermal coal is hardly worth celebrating.
“No one’s invested in thermal coal. It’s dying,” Varada said. “It’s a step forward, but it’s not enough.”
During the rally, Elawad and Chen urged demonstrators to sign an online pledge promising to withhold any future donations from the University until it fully divests. Refuel is also asking seniors and rising seniors to sign the pledge and withhold their senior class gifts.
To seniors who have already given donations, Elawad recommends that they discourage their peers from doing the same.
Sophomore Refuel member Colin Bowen hopes that the pledge will result in a noticeable drop in donations and incentivize the Board to reconsider their decision.
“Alumni satisfaction is one of the criteria for ranking universities and is tied to donations,” he said. “If they don’t want to keep sliding down the ladder, that’s going to be something they’re going to have to look at. This is definitely how we can hit them where it hurts.”
The pledge, which is available on Refuel’s Facebook page, has over 100 signatures and counting as of Tuesday. Chen encouraged students to send the link to 10 of their friends and emphasized that the pledge would be ineffective unless it received mass support.
“Every single year we pay Hopkins a ridiculous, atrocious amount of money,” she said. “They should be responsible to our communities and global environment, especially given that we are a public health institution.”
Until the University fully divests, Chen and Elawad intend for Refuel to remain active and continue holding public demonstrations.
“We have a number of ideas we want to execute over the semester, and people will find out about those as they come,” Elawad said.
Elawad also encouraged students to join Refuel and to stay informed via Refuel’s Facebook page.
“Just know that we still need the support of the student body,” he said. “Stay engaged with us, rally behind us, help us out in whatever way you can.”
At the rally, Chen told demonstrators that the University must be held accountable in serving the interests of the student body and its community partners.
“As student activists, we have the power to change what the University does, what we do as a student body and what our environment would be like in the next few years,” she said. “We have absolutely no time to lose.”