UArizona Divest, a student-led movement at the University of Arizona dedicated to ending the university’s investment in fossil fuels, is hoping to amplify efforts towards this goal in the spring by partnering with students, faculty and the greater Tucson community.
According to Divest’s website, the group is “committed to collaborating with the UArizona community to align the university’s endowment with mission-driven investments to combat the climate crisis.”
Previously, Divest was involved in discussions with the UA Foundation, the investment committee for the UA’s endowment. According to Divest’s website, as of 2019, the Foundation has invested $64 million in the fossil fuel industry.
After reportedly disappointing meetings with the Foundation last semester, the student leaders of Divest have changed their approach.
Now, the organization is instead focusing efforts on establishing and strengthening connections with students, faculty and the surrounding Tucson community rather than continuing discussions with the Foundation.
“They don’t have an interest in engaging with us,” said Samantha Wetherell, a UA junior and student leader of UAZ Divest. “And that’s why we’ve kind of shifted [focus more to other faculty], because we think that other people in the faculty are incredibly strong allies who not only understand our incentives but also really care about them, and really see the value in pushing for our movement.”
According to Wetherell, Divest is focusing energy on strengthening connections with the faculty senate and budgetary committee, among other groups of people who are very involved in the university and understand the mission and process behind divestment.
Apart from members of faculty, Divest is working on establishing connections with a variety of student organizations on campus dedicated to social justice issues, like the Coalition of Black Students and Allies, Pride Alliance and Students for Justice in Palestine, according to Wetherell. In addition to these student groups, Divest has also reached out to partner with organizations in the greater Tucson community, like the Tucson Climate Coalition or Community on Wheels.
“To do any kind of justice work, whether it’s environmental justice, social justice or whatever, you need to be intersectional, you need to meet all these different people,” Wetherell said. “And it’s been great for us, we’ve learned about a lot of opportunities, we’ve gotten a lot of allies and we’ve learned a lot of things about our community.”
Ellie Standifer, another Divest student leader, highlighted some specific ways the organization has established relationships with members of the community.
“We've really been able to get more awareness around the community,” Standifer said. “We go to city council meetings kind of frequently and support climate initiatives there, meet other people interested in progress for our community. Keeping those connections is definitely a huge goal of ours this semester.”
Divest has some events planned to continue strengthening these bonds with the community and with people on campus. Specifically, the group plans to organize direct action events during Earth Week, which takes place from April 16-22. Standifer and Wetherell said students can keep an eye out for more information about these events. Information about upcoming events and meetings can be found on the group’s Instagram page: @uarizonadivest.
Despite their change in approach to reaching their goals, the demands of Divest remain the same. As listed on their website, Divest insists that:
- The University of Arizona Foundation complete a phased divestment from fossil fuels by 2029.
- The UA Foundation publicly commit to no further investments in the fossil fuel industry from this point on.
- The UAF and UArizona define and implement ESG investment policies and partnerships, inclusive of the UAF becoming a signatory of the UN PRI.
- The UA Foundation include student representation, with voting power, on the Board of Trustees and the Investments Committee.
In order to reach these goals, Divest relies on student involvement and has implemented a variety of strategies this semester to engage students. With many members of the organization having graduated from the university in recent semesters, rebuilding and retention of student members is key, according to Standifer.
The group holds open meetings almost every Monday night from 6:30-7:30 p.m. in the Data Studio at the Main Library, welcoming anyone who wants to get involved or just learn more about the divestment movement, according to Wetherell.
Despite the heaviness of the subject matters they discuss, the leaders of Divest also try to keep elements of their meetings lighthearted.
“We have been planning fun events during meetings, like a Divest spelling bee we had last semester,” Standifer said. “Just stuff like that, keeping it fun and lighthearted and building that community for students that are involved.”
This emphasis on enjoyment in no way negates the significance or seriousness of the cause Divest supports; in fact, Wetherell said having these moments of fun allows Divest to grow stronger as an activist organization, and is an essential part of community building within the group.
“As an activist, this subject matter is going to be forever serious and forever dire,” Wetherell said. “But what makes this movement work, what makes activism work, is community, is that love that you have for each other as well as your movement. Like, we love the earth and thats why we’re trying to make this change. And so there’s some really cool and happy elements too.”
Despite obstacles the movement has faced, they remain an active presence on campus, and encourage students with any interest in or passion about the issues to get involved in any way they can, emphasizing and uplifting the power of student voices.
“We’re still going, we’re still fighting and we will continue this movement as long as it takes to reach our goal,” Wetherell said. “We would love it if anyone wants to join us; it doesn’t matter how much you know, or how much you’ve done in the past. We’re here to help you learn. We’re here to have fun too, and we’re here to make a change in the process.
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