The Cornell Independent Students’ Union demanded the University divest from fossil fuels and revitalize its governance system at a rally in the Willard Straight Hall lobby Thursday.
CISU promotional fliers distributed at the meeting shamed the trustees for their lack of action on the issue, “despite the fact that every shared governance body has voted in favor of divestment from fossil fuels.”
“There was some hope from some [Trustees] that they would act in a compassionate way,” said CISU organizer Alec Desbordes ’17. “However, we’ve been really disappointed.”
Last Friday, the Board of Trustees held an open session on the issue, during which community members urged the board to consider divestment.
Desbordes said the Board of Trustees open session Friday was not indicative of an ideological shift on the issue of fossil fuel divestment, but merely a way to prevent a disruptive demonstration.
“Basically they don’t want to take responsibility,” Desbordes said. “They just see themselves as the finance managers and supreme powers, which they are, of the University.”
CISU aims to become the students’ collective bargaining agent and to “create such de facto power, as opposed to de jure power, that we would be listened to,” Desbordes said. He said that enough student mobilization will prompt the administration to respond.
Desbordes emphasized that greater student and public influence in the University’s governance would improve the University’s responsiveness to “issues at the forefront of student concern” like the potential labor violations in Qatar and the University’s divestment from fossil fuels. By holding “an organizing rally to get people conscious,” Desbordes said CISU intends to “bring back a narrative of power for the students.”
When asked about the origin of this “narrative of power,” Desbordes said student activism throughout history, such as the anti-Vietnam War movement of the 1960s and 1970s, “really showed that if you have the organizing capacity and the will, you can change the university.”
CISU organizer Joshua Yeh ’16 emphasized that student movements through history have been instrumental to change, including the anti-war demonstrations, the clean air and water passage, civil rights movements and now anti-sweatshop movements.
“Cornell is a beautiful place with amazing people, and it has so much potential,” Yeh said. ”Criticism comes out of a point of love, and you have to care about a place to want to make it better.”