A prop "oil barrel" at activist group Fossil Free CU's protest at the UMC May 3, 2017. (Stephanie Wood/CU Independent)

Fossil Free CU sit-in continues amid meetings with chancellor, supporters

Chancellor Phil DiStefano met with members of activist group Fossil Free CU at the site of their sit-in Tuesday to discuss the possibility of the University of Colorado’s divestment from the fossil fuel industry.

The group presented a letter, co-written with Regent Linda Shoemaker, asking the administration to acknowledge the effects of climate change and the influence that fossil fuels have on it. The meeting did not end with a definite resolution, although the group left feeling “hesitantly hopeful,” according to P.D. Gantert, a recent CU Boulder graduate and one of the leaders of Fossil Free CU.

Fossil Free CU is a student group on campus advocating for CU’s divestment, or removal of investments, from the fossil fuel industry. They have maintained the sit-in at the University Administrative Center since Thursday by rotating members in and out. Before settling into the UAC, they held sit-ins around campus last week, including at Old Main last Wednesday. They decided to move to the UAC to be more visible to the chancellor and his cabinet.

The meeting got personal as DiStefano shared his experience of growing up in Steubenville, Ohio, and the harmful impact of the coal industry on the people around him and the local economy. The group, including CU Boulder student Lior Gross, acknowledged that the chancellor didn’t have the power to override the board of regents, which controls the CU system’s investments. However, they held steady to their demand that the chancellor make a definitive statement encouraging divestment.

“We are still looking to them to exhibit more leadership and so students are continuing to work with their office in order to come to a place of agreement,” Gross said. They spoke to the CUI Tuesday night from the University Administrative Center, the site of the sit-in.

“We know that the chancellor understands the threat that the fossil fuel industry poses to our communities and to our future. And that’s why we are asking him to choose a side and to continue to lead with students because while he remains declaring institutional neutrality, we know that the university investing in the fossil fuel industry is not a neutral position. And we understand that he comes from a place where he knows exactly how the fossil fuel industry threatens the community.”

In addition to working to talk with the chancellor, the group has put increasing pressure on some of the CU regents to act in accordance with divestment. On Monday, they met with Shoemaker, a Democrat representing Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District. She was the first regent to work with Fossil Free CU, proposing a vote of divestment that did not pass the board of regents back in 2015.

Shoemaker’s office plans on releasing a formal statement on Wednesday. Members of Fossil Free CU who met with her said that the meeting was productive, solidifying their previous relationship with her as an advocate for a common goal.

“We are looking to Regent Shoemaker to show leadership on the board, and we know she’ll do the right thing and stand with students for climate justice. And we’re looking forward to working with her towards a vote in September [to move CU investment away from fossil fuels] at the board of regents meeting,” Gross said.

Fossil Free CU is currently working on contacting Regent Glen Gallegos, a Republican representing the 3rd Congressional District. They called him out numerous times on their Facebook page and have cited him as a necessary swing vote on the board of regents.

The group also called out Regents Sue Sharkey and John Carson for their views on climate change during an event they held Tuesday at the UMC fountain. Neither Sharkey nor Carson have publicly accepted that climate change is human-caused. Fossil Free CU placed barrels with writing on them with statements like “students > fossil fuel $” and “divest from destruction, invest in students’ futures.”

Fossil Free CU planned the demonstration before the chancellor offered them a meeting. “[Divesting is] something we could do and something we should do,” said Alex Koek, a member of the group and one of the organizers of the demonstration.

Another demonstration organizer, Michaela Mujica-Steiner, emphasized the importance of calling out the specific regents.

“People across Colorado have been building people power to resist the fossil fuel industry, and one of the main reasons that they have not been able to prevent fracking and these other projects is because of the entrenched money in our political system by the oil and gas industry,” Mujica-Steiner said. “By being complacent and not choosing a side, Regent Gallegos is being complacent in the injustices and the exploitations of his own constituents on the Western slope.”

Tuesday was busy on other accounts as well. Earlier in the morning, a sign was posted on the outside of the UAC explicitly forbidding four reporters at the Daily Camera from entering the building. According to CU spokesperson Ryan Huff, the sign was unauthorized and a miscommunication between police, the third-party security staff hired to supervise the UAC while students sat in overnight and CU administration. The university apologized directly to the Camera as well as publicly.

In the evening, Fossil Free CU held a public meeting in front of the UAC. Just over a dozen students gathered to discuss the current state of their campaign. Most were optimistic, having seen significant support from students and faculty over the past few days.

The group will continue their sit-in for the sixth straight night. Calling from the sit-in, Gross said that though Fossil Free CU has made significant progress in their campaign since the beginning of the protest, they know there’s a lot of work still to do.

“I know this widespread support form the community is a very encouraging sign. We’re in a position right now with the relationships we’ve been building with the regents and also the actions we’ve been taking on campus in order to get a vote. And I know that when students take action, we win on climate justice. So I feel confident that our university will do the right thing to side with students’ futures instead of the fossil fuel industry.”

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

CU Independent Staff Writers Devlin Thieke (devlin.thieke@colorado.edu) and Stephanie Wood (stephanie.wood@colorado.edu) contributed reporting.

About Lucy Haggard

Lucy Haggard is a Colorado native in her first year at CU Boulder majoring in journalism. She is currently the breaking news editor. She writes about CU Student Government, current events on campus and whatever unexpected thing happens next.

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