Divestment across campus: Activist groups discuss status of current demands and future plans


Daily file photo by Maia Pandey

A banner that Fossil Free NU protesters hung in front of Deering Library after a “Beyond Earth Day” march. The group demands the University divest from fossil fuels.

Russell Leung, Assistant Campus Editor

In 2019, Fossil Free Northwestern submitted a proposal to the Board of Trustees for the University to divest from major oil, coal and natural gas corporations and reinvest in renewable and sustainable energy. 

After eight months of deliberation — during which the board instated new investment criteria that made the divestment plan ineligible — the board rejected the proposal. Since then, divestment-minded activist groups on campus have regrouped and charted new strategies for demanding action.

Communication junior Lucy London, an organizer for Fossil Free, said although the Board of Trustees met with the organization after rejecting the proposal, its members do not want to commit to divestment. Fossil Free is looking to other universities for strategies that expand beyond the board.

The group is helping organize an all-night “Generations of Environmental Justice” event on Earth Day, which will feature visioning sessions and strategic discussions on divestment. 

London said while divestment is an impactful movement, they also view it as a starting point for students to build their lives around activism.

“This is the existential fight of our lives, and it’s connected with every other fight,” London said. “I think my goal, at least, and sort of my goal through this campaign, is to build that understanding of how to live the movement.”

Fossil Free Organizer and Communication sophomore Jordan Muhammad said the group is interested in challenging the power of both the Board of Trustees and the University’s $15 billion endowment. 

In October, Dissenters, an anti-war student group, posted flyers around campus condemning several board members for their financial ties to militarism.

“The Board of Trustees, there’s essentially no checks on their power,” Muhammad said. “Something that we have focused a lot on is just, how can we question that structure? How can we actually build democracy on campus in a way that allows change to happen?”

Fossil Free also works with other divestment organizations at NU because of their overall resistance to the University’s investments in “oppression” and “death,” Muhammad said.

A SESP sophomore and NU Dissenters organizer, who asked to remain anonymous because of safety concerns, said the group has frequently collaborated with Fossil Free and Northwestern Students for Justice in Palestine to discuss divestment strategy.

The organizer said Dissenters has not yet reached out directly to University administration about its anti-militarist divestment demands because it is skeptical about whether these talks would be productive.

“We’re a young organization, and we also are mindful of the fact that admin are trained in diluting revolutionary potential on campus,” the SESP sophomore said. “Admin are trained to give you a run-around, to go around in circles, to give promises that are never kept, to burn out organizers.”

Medill junior Mubarak Hassan, head of external relations for SJP, said the group has been concentrating on its campaign for NU to cease the sale of Sabra products because of the company’s financial ties to the Israel Defense Forces. 

SJP has placed QR code stickers on Sabra products sold at NU that link to its petition for a boycott and hung a banner protesting Sabra over Norris University Center and The Rock during Winter Quarter. Hassan said the group is still gathering signatures and plans to send a formal divestment letter to the University administration. 

Hassan said SJP is also focused on speaking out against the recent increase in violence between Israeli forces and Palestinians. In an open letter released Sunday, SJP reaffirmed its demands for the University to stop selling Sabra and divest from companies that fund the Israeli military. 

“At the end of the day, it’s important that other students are aware that this is our money,” Hassan said. “As people who are accessing education here we should also have knowledge about what our tuition is funding.”

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Twitter: @rjleung7

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Fossil Free NU hosts teach-in on divestment, abolition, Indigenous rights