May 2, 2013

Students Stage ‘Die-In’ to Encourage Cornell to Divest

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Two-dozen students lay still on the ground in an hour-long “die-in” in front of Day Hall Thursday to pressure the University to divest from fossil fuels.

The flash-mob was hosted by Kyoto NOW!, a student-run organization that advocates for action on climate change and promotes awareness about the repercussions of investing in the fossil fuel industry. Participants pretended to be dead victims of climate change and fossil fuel extraction at the die-in.

“We’re representing those that are negatively affected by supporting the fossil fuel industry,” said Anna-Lisa Castle ’14, one of the event’s organizers.

Castle expressed the importance of holding the University accountable for making socially responsible investments.

“The administration has said that they are prepared to get serious about socially responsible investment, so we want progress updates and to know what efforts are being made,” Castle said. “We want them to be transparent in regards to a responsible endowment.”

During the protest, participants playing dead held up posters with quotes from various student groups that support divestment.

“The students are holding up parts of letters that 25 student groups wrote supporting divestment,” said Aubree Keurajian ’15, vice president of Kyoto NOW!.

Thursday’s demonstration continues student-led efforts throughout the spring semester to ask the University to divest. For instance, throughout March, students and organizations delivered handwritten letters advocating divestment to President David Skorton.

Although Skorton has said that the University has no plans to divest a large portion of its endowment from the fossil fuels industry in the “immediate foreseeable future,” Keurajian said students will remain persistent in their efforts to prevent the University from what she said was indirectly supporting climate change.

“Our cause is the divestment of our endowment from the fossil fuel industry. Our purpose with this demonstration is to show President Skorton and the student body that just because he said no to divestment in the immediate future, doesn’t mean we’re going to stop,” Keurajian added.

Castle said she hopes the demonstration will indicate to the University that students are both serious and sincere about divestment.

“I hope our message is clear: students are coming from all over campus and we want to be taken seriously by the administration,” Castle said.

Skorton, however, wrote in a column for The Sun on April 15 that eliminating University investments in fossil fuel industries would not be feasible due to the negative impact it would have on the endowment.

“Divesting a large and successful portion of our endowment portfolio could jeopardize the delicate balance we have achieved,” Skorton said in the column. “Returns on the endowment provide roughly 11 percent of Cornell’s operating revenues.”

Members of the demonstration handed out pamphlets to onlookers. K.C. Alvey ’12, a field organizer with the environmental organization — a global environmental organization that fights against climate change — discussed the issue with inquiring observers.

“We’re calling upon Cornell to live up to its mission of sustainability and divest from fossil fuels. This is an urgent crisis requiring immediate attention,” she said.

The organizers also stressed that they will not abandon efforts to divest despite the University’s rejection of the Student Assembly resolution in support of a responsible endowment.

“We still believe this is a huge issue,” Keurajian said.  “We have a lot of passion behind this cause — it’s a broad student movement, and we’re not going to forget about it over the summer.”

Castle echoed her sentiments, saying that the organization will continue its divestment efforts throughout next year.

“Not only are we not going to give up come fall, we also want the administration to keep its promise. One of the biggest things that the administration has emphasized is that they want to continue dialogue, so we want to see infrastructure for dialogue,” Castle said.

Participants indicated that they will not cease protesting and pressuring the University until it divests.

“I think it’s very clear to the administration that we’re not stopping. We won’t rest until we divest,” said Amanda Sajewski ’16, a participant in the demonstration.

Original Author: Anushka Mehrotra