Learning from Standing Rock

15107325_1190587024360017_1173919419732437754_nWe drove out of Oceti Sakowin camp in Standing Rock, North Dakota at around 5 p.m. on Nov. 26. I was looking out the window at the Native land that was patiently awaiting the sunset. It was orange like pumpkin pie, with puffy clouds in place of whipped cream. But this Thanksgiving wasn’t about pumpkin pie. It was about standing with Water Protectors in North Dakota; about recognizing the harm corporatocracy has done to Indigenous people and their land; about sitting in our discomfort when acknowledging white privilege.

As other members of DivestNU that had journeyed out to Standing Rock and I were starting our 35-hour drive back to Boston, I was thinking about lessons and revelations I wanted to bring back to my friends and family. What dialogues should be taking place in our homes tonight to help water protectors in Standing Rock and Indigenous folks in general?

While countless things should be taken away from our week-long trip to North Dakota — from refusing to engage in cultural appropriation to learning to be humble guests on the Native land — all these lessons ought to be framed in the context of challenging our complicity in institutions of colonialism. According to “For Indigenous Minds Only: A Decolonization Handbook,” decolonization is resistance to colonialism with the purpose of realizing Indigenous liberation. This process, therefore, must begin with our acknowledgement of the injustice that is colonization, the physical and mental aspects of which stripped Indigenous peoples of their rights and autonomy. In order to help Native populations, we, first and foremost, need to educate ourselves on sovereign Indigenous rights and then defend those rights in the face of oppressive institutions.

The reason it is crucial to frame our thinking in terms of decolonization is because we cannot appropriate Indigeneity as white activists. Yes, we helped in the kitchen, did construction work, chopped wood, sorted medical supplies — and that’s great. But there is so much undeniable privilege in being able to travel thousands of miles to support this struggle. I will never know what it feels like to have my land stolen, my water poisoned and my spirituality criminalized. We need to recognize that Native communities have their life at stake. There is no home they can go back to after they are done protesting the pipeline. This land is their home, and this is why decolonization requires a uniquely Indigenous framework.

So, please, open your mind. Read about colonialism. Donate money and supplies to Standing Rock. Contact those responsible for militarized response to water protectors. Attend solidarity rallies. Support Native artisans and organizations engaged in advocacy work. Protest racist mascots and offensive fashion accessories. Do research on what cultural appropriation looks like. Learn about Native-led movements. There is so much we can do once we recognize existing injustices and embark on the journey of decolonization.

– Anna Sorokina


This post was originally published as a column in The Huntington News.

Closing #FossilFreeCentennial

If you walk by Centennial, you’ll notice something is different. Today, our campaign chose to end its encampment given that on Tuesday we will be meeting with the Senior Leadership Team to find a way to move forward on the issue of divestment. If this meeting fails, our escalation will continue, informed by what we’ve learned these past two weeks.

Today was preview day at Northeastern- 2,500 prospective students and family members toured the university. At this event, Northeastern presented itself as a global institution. We presented Northeastern’s true global impact: lives lost, communities destroyed, voices ignored. Climate change is violent and so is Northeastern’s refusal to divest. Northeastern cannot ignore the human impact of climate change and its complicity in millions of deaths. This context will ground our meeting with the administration on Tuesday and inform our escalation moving forward.


Photo by Scotty Schenck

DivestNU Takes Centennial

14449840_1139159256169461_5635789344438571718_nThis morning, 40 members of the DivestNU coalition launched an occupation of Centennial Common. We are calling on Northeastern to rise as a leader in the fight for climate justice by ending our investment in the fossil fuel industry. We will remain until the administration takes action or we are forced out.

Climate change is the defining issue of our lifetime, and we will not rest until our University ends its support of fossil fuel companies.

Stand with us as we stand with the communities already suffering the devastation of climate change.


Our Community Demands Divestment

In 2014, students voted overwhelmingly in favor of divestment. This March, President Aoun’s own committee recommended divestment. Yet over the summer, administrators rebuked the community’s calls, dismissing divestment as a “retreat from global challenges.”


Exxon Knew, Exxon Lied

To have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming to 2°C, no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built. Still, companies like Exxon spend millions of dollars each day exploring for more coal, oil, and gas, all while bankrolling climate denial. This is a rogue industry, and it must be stopped.


Climate Change is Here

Each of the last 16 consecutive months have been the hottest in history, and 2016 is set to be the hottest year on record. Floods in the southeast, fires in the west – millions of people are already struggling with the reality of a warmer world.

This is our moment. Join us tonight (10/3) at 6pm for a rally in Centennial with our entire coalition.

Abandonment Issues: Northeastern and the Fossil Fuel Industry

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 8.44.18 PMOn Monday, Northeastern’s administration announced that it will direct $25 million of its $700 million endowment fund to investments focused on “sustainability, including clean energy, renew­ables, green building, and sus­tain­able water and agriculture.” In doing so, the administration and Board of Trustees took a clear stance against fossil fuel divestment.

According to Thomas Nedell, treasurer and senior vice pres­i­dent for finance, “We have deliber­ately chosen to invest, not divest. This approach is con­sis­tent with Northeastern’s char­acter as an insti­tu­tion that actively engages with the world, not one that retreats from global chal­lenges.”

Socially responsible investment is indeed crucial, but it is extremely troubling that our administration believes divestment is antithetical to active engagement with global challenges. They present a false choice that fails to grasp the true extent of action needed to mitigate the effects of climate change. Rejecting divestment in this manner underscores Northeastern’s tacit support of the fossil fuel industry’s destructive business model, and undercuts the gains that this investment decision seeks to make. There are strategies that compliment divestment, but there is no substitute for divestment.

We are writing to our Northeastern community today because half-measures are not enough. It is time to take bold, comprehensive action to address climate change. It is time to divest.

Investment alone is dismissive of the student voice.

In 2014, the Northeastern student body voted in favor of divesting the University’s endowment from fossil fuels, eventually leading to the formation of the Social Impact Council. Tellingly, Monday’s statement makes no reference to this event. In making its decision to disregard fossil fuel divestment, the administration and Board of Trustees have attempted to silence their students. This is not the first time Northeastern has aimed to erase the student narrative. Last spring, Northeastern chose to threaten 20 students with arrest as opposed to providing a timeline for engagement on the issue of divestment.

Furthermore, the University’s own Social Impact Council endorsed divestment after months of review, calling it a “requisite move for staying true to the moral underpinning of the University’s mission”. The report also emphasized that “the process of developing a plan for institutional sustainability must be transparent and inclusive”. Today’s announcement flies in the face of these recommendations. The administration chose not to consult with students before making this decision, and rejected multiple appeals to open a dialogue between the Board of Trustees and Northeastern students regarding this issue. We have been bypassed and forced to bear witness as our administration once again puts profit over people.

This $25 million investment in sustainable ventures represents the continuation of the status quo, and does not fully address the will of the student body. Instead of standing up to the fossil fuel industry, Northeastern has signaled that it is content to work within a system that supports business-as-usual. Students realize that our University’s continued investment in fossil fuel companies is a moral discrepancy – one that we are unwilling to stand for as members of this institution.

The administration’s priorities are not our priorities. Their vision is not our vision.

Investment alone is immoral.

Investment in sustainable initiatives is an important step, but it does nothing to confront the forces ultimately responsible for our present crisis. The fossil fuel industry wields undue influence within our federal, state, and local legislatures. To ignore this is to deny our political reality. No matter how much we invest in sustainable solutions, they cannot thrive in a context where decision-makers answer to the fossil fuel industry first, and the people second.

By neglecting the root of the problem, Northeastern sets itself up to experience first-hand the barriers created by the fossil fuel industry. The industry’s vast financial resources and PR machine allow it to block any major changes that could be brought about by our investment in sustainable ventures, a trend we’ve seen time and time again across the country.

Further, Northeastern’s statement skirts our moral responsibility to act on climate. Climate change and the work of the fossil fuel industry causes a myriad of well-documented social injuries, including public health hazards that disproportionately affect marginalized communities and undue harm to regions of the world that have contributed least to climate change. In addition, recent revelations of the deliberate cultivation climate misinformation by Exxon Mobil are prudent cause for public denunciation of the fossil fuel industry. Divestment shows the world that we, an institution of higher learning and leadership, will not stand for this industry’s harmful and obstructionist behavior.

The University’s Social Impact Council stated the following:

…the fossil fuel industry has leveraged their wealth and society’s dependence on their products to stymie global efforts to combat climate change. By investing in the fossil fuel industry, Northeastern University is directly, though inadvertently, profiting from this political inaction and its devastating consequences. For many, no amount of energy- or resource-saving measures taken on campus can palliate the moral inconsistency of retaining fossil fuel investments.”

In choosing to remain invested in fossil fuels, Northeastern has abandoned the pretense that their complicity in the deliberate obstruction of climate action is inadvertent.

Investment alone is insufficient.

The press release accurately notes that the university holds no direct investments in fossil fuel companies. As stated, this is due to the size and structure of our endowment, which remains exposed to the fossil fuel industry through indirect investments in commingled funds. It is not the result of an ethical commitment to climate action on Northeastern’s part, and as such there is no moral standard to prevent Northeastern from investing directly in fossil fuel companies in the future.

Further, the decision’s focus on direct investments ignores the options available to the university. A true commitment to combating climate change would necessitate working with fund managers to pursue divestment, or exploring the growing number of fossil-free funds. The endowments of Pitzer College and the University of Dayton are largely held in commingled funds, but they pursued full divestment nonetheless. Syracuse University immediately ended direct investments, and called on the managers of its commingled funds to pursue divestment as well.

By deliberately withdrawing its investments from the fossil fuel industry, Northeastern would take a stance against the fossil fuel industry’s business model, a business model that profits off the destruction of land, lives, and livelihoods. Monday’s statement declines to condemn the fossil fuel industry’s actions, and in doing so fails to contend with the threat they pose to our futures. Commingled funds cannot be used as a mechanism to shield the university from the moral implications of its investments.

– – –

The climate crisis will not be solved by half-measures. In refusing to take a stand against the fossil fuel industry, Northeastern is retreating from the most consequential aspect of the very global challenge it is attempting to address. Political impasse represents a loss of one of the greatest privileges afforded to an institution of higher education: the privilege to embody the best and the brightest ideals of our current and future society. As a self-touted “recognized leader” in sustainability practices, Northeastern University’s decision to shy away from addressing the root causes of climate change represents the bowing down of our institution to the power and influence of the fossil fuel industry.

Peer institutions, such as UMass, have already begun to stand up to the fossil fuel industry. They are putting their institution’s values, and their students’ values, first. Every day that Northeastern remains invested in the fossil fuel industry is a failure to demonstrate bold leadership. We once again call on our University to #LeadWithUs – the time is now.


A Message to the SLT: #LeadWithUs

Today, the DivestNU campaign writes to share important news from our campaign to divest Northeastern University’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry.

Last April, The Office of Student Affairs released a statement acknowledging the results of our student body’s referendum, in which 75% of participating students voiced support for divestment, and detailing the work that had been undertaken in collaboration with our campaign. Most notably, the statement outlined a process toward exploring fossil fuel divestment alongside students, faculty, and administrators through the Social Impact Council (SIC).

Now, the SIC process is coming to a close. A report has been prepared by its members which recommends divestment as a policy tool to bolster the University’s current commitment toward climate action and sustainability. This is a very significant step and we thank the members of the Council for their work. Now it is necessary to shift attention toward what comes next.

The process now moves into the hands of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT). The SLT is comprised of seven individuals:

  • James C Bean: Provost, Sr. VP, Academic Affairs
  • Philomena Mantella: Sr. VP, CEO NU Global Network
  • Michael Armini: Sr. VP External Affairs
  • Thomas Nedell: Sr. VP, Treasurer
  • Ralph Martin: Sr. VP, General Counsel
  • Diane MacGillivray: Sr. VP, University Advancement
  • James R Hackney: Chief of Staff, Senior Strategy Advisor
  • Joseph E Aoun: President

It is now directly up to the discretion of these seven individuals to determine how our University will proceed on this issue— including whether or not a discussion of fossil fuel divestment moves to the Board of Trustees for consideration and, ultimately, a vote.

It is now time for the SLT to commit to next steps alongside our campaign. We don’t ask for or expect an endorsement of divestment as a policy decision at this stage. Instead, what we ask for is much simpler: for the SLT to demonstrate that they respect the substantive nature of the question of fossil fuel divestment by committing publicly to a process of engagement toward the Board of Trustees.

Our specific asks of the SLT are as follows:

  1. We are calling for a specific timeline of engagement with the Board of Trustees, which we believe is critical to ensure that this process remains transparent and accountable to all university stakeholders. We propose the following timeline:

    • At the May 2016 meeting, a notice of the SIC’s recommendation on divestment should appear on the Board’s agenda, initiating the process. We further ask the SLT to arrange an informal discussion between members of the Board and our campaign in order to better understand their concerns and interests in the pursuit of mutually agreeable outcomes.
    • At the September 2016 meeting, a minimum time of one hour should be allocated on the Board’s agenda to discussion of the SIC recommendation and divestment as a policy option.
    • At the March 2017 meeting, the Board should take a formal vote on SIC’s recommendation to divest from fossil fuels.
  2. To ensure that a mutually beneficial process takes place we wish to establish a specific point of contact with the SLT, who would oversee the implementation of these asks and future correspondence with our campaign. It is important that this process remains accountable and allows for effective communication between all stakeholders in which concerns are taken seriously. We recommend that James Hackney, Chief of Staff, fulfill this role.


“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there ‘is’ such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke those words in 1963. Their applicability today, to the situation in which we find ourselves in, is striking.

What motivates our campaign to fight for fossil fuel divestment is an understanding of the immediacy and scale of the climate crisis. Unlike so many issues of public policy, this is not simply an issue of one group’s preferences against another’s. As Bill McKibben recently stated, it is people against physics, and physics just keeps on doing what it does.

It is this grounding, in the biophysical realities of climate change and of moral opposition to the unjust distribution of its impacts, which informs our activism and compels us to take a stand. 80 percent of known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground if we are to limit warming to 2°C, the internationally agreed upon red line. There is simply no alternative path commensurate with a stable and just future—with a world worth living.

Today we are calling upon our University’s leadership to lead with us, and we request a response by April 18th. We do so with the understanding that without their leadership our campaign will be compelled to take the decision-making process into its own hands.