The past month saw a historic swelling of student activism and support for fossil fuel divestment, both within the Northeastern community and beyond.
In mid-March, representatives from DivestNU met with Madeleine Estabrook (VP of Student Affairs), and Michael Armini (VP of External Affairs) to address the current status of Northeastern’s response to the fossil fuel divestment campaign. After weeks of ignoring our campaign’s requests for follow-up, we felt it necessary to further encourage the administration to formally respond. On April 3rd, 17 members of the DivestNU coalition marched into the office of student affairs and called a meeting with Ms. Estabrook. The direct action proved effective, resulting in a productive meeting and an agreement to move forward on the promises the administration made to the students.
On April 14th, Ms. Estabrook sent a campus-wide memorandum acknowledging the student mandate for fossil fuel divestment and detailing the role the newly formed Social Impact Council will play. This Council is intended to deal with a broad range of social issues that confront the university community; the issue of divestment is among the first to be addressed. This constructive response was the first time our University officially recognized the students’ call for divestment, and demonstrates the incredible power of collective student action.
It’s inspiring to watch how the actions of DivestNU have spurred a renaissance of student activism at Northeastern. Our coalition members sponsored three progressive referenda questions in this year’s Student Government Association (SGA) elections. All passed with landslide margins: a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers, a gender resource center to handle sexual assault and other gender issues, and the conversion of all single-stall bathrooms on campus to gender-neutral bathrooms. We are committed to working in solidarity with these campaigns as they move forward.
While these victories are a testament to the power of student voices, it is important to remember that our free speech on campus is not to be taken for granted. Two members of our coalition—Students for Justice in Palestine and Real Food Challenge—proposed referenda to the SGA but were barred from getting their initiatives on the ballot. We believe that an affront to any student’s voice is an affront to all student voices, and we will continue to stand in solidarity with any student group silenced by our University.
Our friends fighting for climate justice at Boston College have faced even greater hurdles to student activism. The BC administration threatened probation and expulsion to students attempting to organize for fossil fuel divestment. On April 12th, hundreds of supporters from the community rallied during BC’s “Admitted Eagles” day to protest this draconian censorship. In response, BC granted official status to the student group.
This past week was also Divest Harvard’s “Heat Week”, during which students and alumni blockaded several administrative buildings—including the President’s office. The massive effort garnered significant attention from the press and concluded with a 600-person march around Harvard Yard.
This wave of student activism has not been limited to Boston. Across the country, divestment campaigns are escalating. Students at University of Mary Washington just ended a 3-week sit-in, and nineteen students at Yale were arrested after a day-long sit-in in their administrative building. Students at Tufts, Tulane, Swarthmore, and other schools have also turned to similar tactics. Divestment is quickly becoming a more and more visible issue.
Here at NU things have been heating up too. On April 16th author, journalist, and activist Naomi Klein came to Northeastern to speak about her latest book, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate”. Klein stressed that preserving a livable future requires radical change; in her words, “there are no non-radical options left.”
The following day, dozens of students as well as faculty and alumni turned out for “DivestFest” in Snell Library Quad. The event featured live music and speeches from members of the campaign, our coalition, faculty, and alumni. It was an incredibly empowering afternoon that highlighted the intersection of climate change and broad social movements for justice and equality. We are really grateful to everyone who made it happen and came out to support.
As the spring semester draws to a close, we are energized and excited. In the coming months we will grow our faculty and alumni networks and, in doing so, build pressure on the administration. Additionally, we will be working directly with the Social Impact Council to ensure that the issue of divestment is handled in a thorough and timely manner, and that the administration is held accountable to the Council’s recommendations. With your support we’ll keep our momentum going and finish the fight for fossil fuel divestment.