November 24th, 2015
GU Fossil Free is disappointed that the GUSA Senate voted down GUFF’s proposal to hold a non-binding referendum in which students would vote for or against divestment. GU Fossil Free, which has accumulated over 2,500 petition signatures calling on Georgetown to divest its endowment from fossil fuels, intended to have a referendum held through GUSA in order to provide undergraduates with the opportunity to express their support or dissent of divestment in February 2016.
The GUSA Senate’s worry that insufficient education would be given to students prior to the referendum is not a justifiable reason to withhold an opportunity for students to express their opinion on a timely and important campus issue. There would be time between this semester and the referendum in February to provide sufficient educational materials and opportunities to students. In order to alleviate concerns on lack of education, GU Fossil Free proposed and reached out to third party groups and those willing to argue in opposition to divestment to create unbiased and comprehensive educational materials. GU Fossil Free also worked quickly to collaborate with other individuals to include language for reasons not to divest on the referendum in February. However, both of these attempts to create greater, more widely distributed and unbiased educational materials were rejected.
At the same time, while the Senate expressed concern over lack of education, they also indicated as part of their final conclusion that any efforts put into educating students about divestment may detract from bandwidth to educate about issues like race on campus or sustainability more broadly. Not only does this idea contradict the call for greater education put forth by the Senate, the idea that divestment may detract students’ attention from greater issues in itself is misguided. Students are able to consider more than one idea in their mind at a time, and environmental justice issues and other campus issues are by no means mutually exclusive. By deciding which issues students can and cannot hold in their heads, the Senate has in essence decided on which issues students can campaign and to which issues students may pay attention. GU Fossil Free would liken this kind of action as censorship of an active issue, especially considering the strong support that over 2,500 petition signatures signifies. GUSA has also clearly violated its own mission which states that “students have a right to play a clearly defined and significant role in the formation and application of institutional policy affecting both academic and student affairs.” By allowing students to vote on divestment, a referendum would be one significant way that would allow students to participate in institutional policy on divestment.
It is also important to note that the referendum is non-binding; that is to say, a majority in terms of student support for divestment would not force the University to divest. The referendum is simply a means for students to express their support or dissent of a campus issue that is not only a national movement but a global movement to divest from fossil fuels. The Senate was not voting on whether or not to support divestment or even just to support GU Fossil Free. The Senate voted to refuse an opportunity for students to anonymously express their opinions. The Senate has voted in favor of similar non-binding action in the past, such as in November 2013 when the Senate voted in favor of a resolution supporting the idea that the University should take a serious look at GU Fossil Free’s proposal. GUSA exists to represent the students, yet it is ignoring the concerns of over 2,500 members of the undergraduate community. To hamstring a conversation prematurely by voting down the possibility of a referendum, the Senate does their constituents an immense disservice denying students the ability to collectively voice an opinion.
This would not be the first time the student body voiced their opinion to influence University decisions through a referendum. In the fall of 2013, the University announced the possibility of adding a satellite campus in Virginia. Students immediately campaigned against it and despite the lack of “official” or binding authority to make such a decision, GUSA supported holding a referendum to illustrate student opinion. It should also be made clear that campaigning around this referendum was deeply one-sided yet the Senate passed this referendum without a call for greater, unbiased education on the benefits of a satellite campus. Such hypocrisy must be regarded as unacceptable. Ultimately, with vast student dissent against the proposition of a satellite campus, Georgetown University took the idea off the table. A referendum is a way for citizens to voice their concerns about issues that affect them on which they may not have the authority to decide. By voting against the referendum, GUSA has restricted the power of the student body to collectively voice their stance on the issue of divestment, thus eliminating this important method of involvement in a pertinent campus decision.
The University endowment growth campaign is labeled “For Generations to Come.” Current students play a necessary role in ensuring not only that the endowment can grow, but that it is invested in ways that allow other people to thrive for generations to come. As GU Fossil Free has maintained throughout our campaign, investments in the fossil fuel industry contribute not only to climate change but to other global injustices that threaten many people’s ability to thrive. Climate change is developing at a pace that does not only affect our children’s futures but our own. As members of the Georgetown community, we should show the University that we strongly support divestment as a keystone of the University’s commitment to social justice and to fighting climate change.
In light of the GUSA Senate’s decision to reject the referendum, GU Fossil Free will be turning toward some of our other sources of support, such as our strong alumni, faculty, and Georgetown Law campaigns, as well as our strong undergraduate base. We are confident that this broad coalition will ultimately prove to the Board of Directors that Georgetown will be on the right side of history when it chooses to divest from all top 200 fossil fuel companies.
The Members of the GU Fossil Free Coalition