Activist group Fossil Free CU stages sit-in at campus building, willing to ‘risk arrest’; students staying the night inside

Corrections: Due to a reporting error, this story identified the sit-in as happening at 924 Broadway. It is happening next door in the University Administrative Center. The assistant dean of students’ name is spelled Jennifer McDuffie.

About seven CU Boulder students and alumni are staging a sit-in in the University Administrative Center on campus, urging Chancellor DiStefano to make a statement on the future of CU’s investments in the fossil fuel industry. The sit-in began with about a dozen students at 12:45 p.m. on Thursday. As of 5 p.m. on Friday, the students remain, waiting to meet with DiStefano directly.

The group, called Fossil Free CU, continued to protest at the University Administrative Center after three days of sit-ins in Old Main. The students decided to move to the building after not receiving a response from the administration, according to group member and recent CU graduate P.D. Gantert. The students said that they will not leave until the university makes a statement about whether CU will divest its money from fossil fuels, and are willing to face arrest. They delivered a letter to the chancellor to the building at their initial arrival.

“We call for you to officially support the regents’ divestment of our endowment from the top 200 carbon-holding corporations,” the letter from Fossil Free CU to the chancellor read. “This is a call for investment in Colorado corporations and our future.”

The chancellor arrived at the building at about 5:40 p.m. accompanied by two university officials. Assistant Vice Chancellor for Safety Melissa Zak arrived soon after to join them. For most of the day the protesters were told that DiStefano was out of town. However, according to sources inside the University Administrative Center, the chancellor was in Boulder the entire day.

When the chancellor entered, he did not acknowledge the students and proceeded to meet privately with other officials, according to Gantert. Around 6:45 p.m., after university officials let in some members of the group who were outside the building, Jennifer McDuffie, assistant dean of students, informed the protesters that the chancellor had left and that the group of protesters could stay in the building overnight.

“Students were willing to be arrested because it really matters to us that Chancellor DiStefano take a side in the climate fight,” Gantert said.

A police officer stopped by the scene in the early hours of the protest on Thursday, but never entered the building and left soon after arrival.

Several protesters spent the night inside the building accompanied by a police officer and later by a campus security officer. As of 5 p.m. on Friday, upwards of 30 hours into their sit in, the group has yet to receive a satisfactory answer from DiStefano on divestment and remain inside the building.

“We’re really looking for Chancellor DiStefano to meet with us, and if he’s not going to meet with us the least he could do is be forthright and say so,” Gantert said.

Fossil Free CU repeatedly reached out to CU Regent Glen Gallegos, to whom the group has left hundreds of messages to no response, said Gantert.

Apart from the seven at the sit-in, the organization has dozens of members leafleting campus, posting to social media and speaking with students to engage the issues of climate change.

Currently, CU says it maintains a politically neutral policy on where the almost $2.7 billion investment pool is invested, 3 to 4 percent of which is in the energy sector, as reported by the Daily Camera.

Gantert said that McDuffie came by the sit-in earlier in the day to offer the group meetings with other CU administrators. The students declined, waiting to hear from DiStefano directly.

While declining to change investment policy, a decision he said he does not to have control over, DiStefano applauded the student’s passion in a letter sent to Fossil Free CU members on Wednesday.

“I am proud to have you as students at this campus, expressing yourselves in a peaceful way and bringing attention to your position on these issues,” DiStefano said in the letter.

Alana Wilson, a graduate student at CU, said she was at the protest because she wants to help mitigate climate change. She said she wants the administration to do more than make a statement about CU’s commitment to environmentalism.

“These investments we have, the tens of millions of dollars invested in the fossil fuel industry, are another piece of the puzzle,” Wilson said. “We talk the talk, but that’s a way that our walk doesn’t really line up with our talk.”

At about 5 p.m. on Thursday, Colorado state Senator Steve Fenberg released a letter endorsing the sit-in that the group shared on Facebook.

“I support bold action against the crisis of climate change,” Fenberg said in the letter. “Today’s young people are part of the generation that will be most impacted by the negative impacts of climate change, even though the public policy decisions that caused the crisis were not made by them.”

Gantert praised the staff of campus buildings for accommodation and understanding.

“The staff that work on this campus have been absolutely phenomenal,” Gantert said. “But the administrators, who we really look to for leadership, I’d say are really letting us down.”

We will update this story as it develops.

Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Carina Julig at carina.julig@colorado.edu. 

Contact CU Independent Breaking News Editor Lucy Haggard at lucy.haggard@colorado.edu.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Devlin Thieke at deth5012@colorado.edu

Carina Julig

Carina Julig serves as the managing editor of the CU Independent. A junior majoring in journalism and political science, she formerly interned at the Boulder Daily Camera and studied journalism abroad in the Balkans. She is a California native and cut her teeth in student journalism at her San Diego high school.

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