GU Fossil Free and Allies Deliver Letter to DeGioia Supporting Tar Sands Oil Divestment

January 26th, 2018

GU Fossil Free and a group of 13 allied student organizations recently delivered a letter to President DeGioia, calling for support for GU Fossil Free’s latest proposal. The proposal, which recommends divestment from companies involved in oil extraction from tar sands, aims to align Georgetown’s Jesuit values with its investment policy. Read our letter to DeGioia here. A full list of student group signatories is below:

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GU Fossil Free members before the delivery outside of Healy Hall

GU Fossil Free Submits Proposal to Divest from Tar Sands Extraction

November 6, 2017

GU Fossil Free recently submitted a new proposal to the Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility recommending direct divestment from companies that extract oil from tar sands. The decision to suggest divestment from this particular fossil fuel arose from recognition of tar sands oil’s disproportionately high rate of greenhouse gas emissions, egregious exploitations of First Nations communities, and financial instability. The proposal was submitted on November 6, 2017, and a vote from CISR is expected by March 1, 2018.

Read the proposal here and its coverage in The Hoya here.

GU Fossil Free Responds to GUSA Referendum Decision

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

GU Fossil Free responds to Board’s decision 

Response to Board of Directors’ Decision on Divestment04 June 2015

From its inception, GU Fossil Free has been guided by a single goal: to advocate for the divestment of Georgetown’s endowment from the top 200 oil, coal, and gas companies based on proven carbon reserves. The rationale for divestment at Georgetown lies in both climate justice and the University’s Jesuit roots. Georgetown has made enormous strides in recent years to become more sustainable and, simultaneously, its beliefs have demanded that it support social justice for all peoples around the world. As the effects of climate change become more pronounced globally, the need for fundamental, systemic change has also become more clear. The divestment movement is a major driver in the conversation that will ultimately move the world away from a crippling dependency on fossil fuels. For Georgetown, divestment offers a way for the University to realign its endowment with its moral values: if Georgetown professes to care for all people as a Jesuit university, its endowment should work to not only grow fiscally, but also be representative of the world the University ethically supports and cares to create. 
In light of today’s decision of the Georgetown University Board of Directors only to divest from direct investments in coal companies, which as the resolution itself states represents an “insubstantial portion of the endowment,” GU Fossil Free maintains that this is not a victory. Georgetown’s direct investments in coal, oil, and gas, as opposed to those in commingled funds, represent only about 2% of the endowment. Therefore, at this moment, we cannot say what portion of the endowment will be divested from coal, but we know it is very small. As a top administrator said to us, “coal investments weren’t such great investments to begin with.” It is evident that the University made its decisions for mostly financial and public relations reasons. If the Board had made their decision for principally moral reasons, then they would have supported full divestment from both direct and commingled funds from coal, oil, and gas companies. If Georgetown understands coal investments to be immoral, the only reason not to divest from commingled funds which include coal would be because doing so is more logistically difficult than divesting from direct investments, a meager excuse considering the urgency of the climate crisis. 
Today, Georgetown decided to continue investing in commingled coal, oil, and gas funds, as well as keep its direct investments in oil and gas companies. This decision is morally indefensible. It relies on indiscriminate moral distinctions between coal and oil/gas companies and greatly weakens the political tactic that divestment provides. GUFF’s proposal targets the top 200 oil, gas, and coal companies, as determined by the potential carbon emissions content of their proven reserves. The decision for this particular metric is not arbitrary. While companies on this list arguably do apply varying degrees of ethical discretion to some aspects of their governance, the fact remains that not one of them will elect, of their own accord, to cease extraction operations in the foreseeable future. By divesting from only direct coal holdings, Georgetown has legitimized commingled coal funds and oil/gas as socially just and morally responsible investments – which is indefensible, because these companies’ products pose just as severe a threat to global human rights.
As a university with strong roots in Catholic social teaching and Jesuit identity, Georgetown has an obligation to align its investment practices with its espoused ideal of a life lived in service of others. Pope Francis explicitly called upon those in “positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life” to act as “protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” Retaining investments in the fossil fuel industry flies in the face of the University’s commitments to vulnerable communities around the world and to future generations. 

We thank the Board for helping us begin this process of examining the consequences of our investments, and for the tiny step of divesting from direct coal investments, but they did not make the right decision: Georgetown University has decided to continue immoral investments, actively undermining its Jesuit values and global reputation as a moral leader. Our endowment continues to facilitate an energy economy and global power structure that does not serve the poor, those fighting for clean air and water, small farmers trying to make a living in a rapidly deteriorating climate, or our children and grandchildren. This is unacceptable. 
GU Fossil Free looks forward to urging Georgetown to make the right decision.
Sincerely,
The members of the GU Fossil Free Coalition 

GUFF Student Conduct Statement

On March 18, three GU Fossil Free members peacefully demonstrated on the Gaston Hall stage. Upon the conclusion of Dr. Jim Yong Kim’s address, they climbed up to the stage and held a banner quoting a statement he had previously made about climate change. These three members were physically escorted off of the stage and out of Gaston Hall by several GUPD officers and Judy D. Johnson, Director of Student Conduct. The three GU Fossil Free members are now facing two charges under the provisions of the Code of Student Conduct, whose validity is dubious at best in regards to University policy. Moreover, if pressed, the charges threaten to set an alarming precedent of restricting the free speech of members of the Georgetown University community. Below is the official opinion we have submitted to Ms. Johnson in response to these charges.

29 March 2015

We, Elaine Colligan (SFS ‘15), Patricia Cipollitti (SFS ‘15), and Chloe Lazarus (COL ‘16), submit the following statement for review regarding the proposed charges filed by the Director of Student Conduct, Judy D. Johnson. These are: (1) Unauthorized Access; and (2) Failure to Comply with University Official or Law Enforcement Officer.

FIRST: Our act of peaceful protest, silently holding a banner on the Gaston Hall stage on March 18th, did not violate any University policy regarding unauthorized access to restricted spaces. There are no official stipulations that prohibit members of the University community from entering this space, nor can it be reasonably inferred that access is prohibited or restricted: the intent of unauthorized access, as is stated in the Code of Student Conduct, is to protect spaces vital to the day-to-day functioning of the University such as electrical closets and construction zones.  The stage of Gaston Hall is not such a space. Instead, it is a community platform integral to the free interchange of ideas, including those of students. It is clear to us that the charges that have been levied against us are grounded in concern over respectability rather than violation of statute, and we believe it groundless to conflate these two.

By arguing that the stage was restricted on the basis of the level of disruption that we created, the University administration has necessarily invoked our rights to express our views, not the danger that we posed to ourselves or others by accessing this space. Therefore, the question raised by our actions is whether University policies allow speech and expression on the stage, a question governed not by Code of Conduct, but rather the Speech and Expression Policy. Based on our reading of the Policy, we are convinced that our rights to protest on the Gaston Hall stage were, and continue to be, protected by University policy.

The Speech and Expression Policy of Georgetown University states, “Expressive activities planned and executed with the intention of protesting an event, policy or other concept can take place in all campus locations, regardless of whether the space has been reserved for that purpose, as long as the actions do not violate other University policies, disrupt University business, or curtail the free speech rights of others” (Section II, part E; emphasis ours). We do not believe that our action disrupted University business. We did not obstruct the view of any speakers, nor did we impede the ability of any speakers to express themselves. In addition, we did not pose any danger to anyone at the event. We seriously consulted this Policy, and other University policies, before our action, and we remain staunch in our belief that our actions were protected by the Speech and Expression Policy.

SECOND: The subsequent charge, Failure to Comply with University Officials or Law Enforcement Officer, is null and void in light of the invalidity of the first charge. University officials only have the right to ask students to move out of spaces if access to these has been previously deemed “restricted.” As the Gaston Hall stage is not one of these spaces, University officials–including both GUPD officers and the Director of Student Conduct–did not have the authority to ask us to move from our place of peaceful protest. Furthermore, given GUPD’s history of poor enforcement of free speech policies (see Speech & Expression Committee opinions), we were understandably hesitant to comply with GUPD’s orders. Most importantly, we believe we did not have any obligation to comply if we were being asked to do something that is not prohibited within the scope of University policy.

As has been demonstrated, the charges levied against us are unreasonable and decidedly without grounding. Furthermore, they are insidious. They undermine the twin aims of Georgetown as a university: the pursuit of the common good and the free exchange of ideas. Regarding the first of these: as members of GU Fossil Free, we have been urging the University for nearly three years to align its investment practices with the moral commitments our Jesuit institution claims to uphold. The University has so far failed to do so. Our act of protest served to further our campaign’s goal to rid Georgetown’s endowment of investments that contravene our responsibilities to the world’s most vulnerable and to future generations. Regarding the second aim: we contend that our removal from the Gaston Hall stage made it “impossible for [us] to speak or be heard or seen” (Preamble, 6) and obstructed the free exchange of ideas. As such, our removal and these subsequent charges constitute “an attack on the core principles the University lives by and may not be tolerated” (Preamble, 6).  The purpose of the Code of Student Conduct is to protect students and make Georgetown an inviting place to learn, and it cannot and should not be leveraged to infringe upon rights explicitly granted to students by official University policy.  As students who stand by the merit of our contribution to the intellectual and moral life of this university, we cannot tolerate this alarming indifference to our right to express our concerns.

Signed,
Elaine Colligan
Patricia Cipollitti
Chloe Lazarus

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Vincent DeLaurentis Writes Response to Hoya Ed Board

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The Hoya’s editorial published March 24th, 2015.

Today, GU Fossil Free was deeply disappointed to see an editorial by The Hoya entitled “Get Off The Stage” criticizing GU Fossil Free’s recent banner drop at Jim Yong Kim’s speech on climate change at Georgetown.

However, we are also grateful to Vincent DeLaurentis, Hoyas for Choice member and one of the founders of Hoyas United for Free Speech, who wrote a letter in response to The Hoya editorial board. The letter follows below. Thank you so much, Vincent.

The Hoya Editorial Board’s recent criticism of GU Fossil Free’s action at Jim Yong Kim’s speech in Gaston, demonstrates a lack of understanding of basic organizing principles.

The Editorial Board criticized GUFF for what they saw as rash behavior in getting on the stage. The Board also called on GUFF to replace nonviolent direct action, like “stage storming,” with “town halls or open meetings.”

The funny thing is that GUFF has been holding open meetings and teach-ins for almost two years now. It is only after extinguishing all of these less-confrontational tactics that GUFF began to switch to nonviolent direct action. This is a completely valid shift when organizing a campaign, as doing the same thing over and over again without result is campaign suicide.

More concerning, the Editorial Board expressed fear that GUFF might have threatened Georgetown’s reputation and disturbed the community. Of course GUFF was threatening Georgetown’s reputation and riling the student body. By profiting off of fossil fuels, Georgetown propagates climate violence against the environment and poor and indigenous peoples. This is shameful and should hurt Georgetown’s reputation. If GUFF doesn’t pressure and shame the University on climate injustice, the University has no incentive to change its unjust behavior.

Politeness is the enemy of progress. This is a lesson Georgetown students need to learn, especially if they are interested in affecting [sic] positive change on campus. We as a student body need to shed the respect for authority instilled in us by our bourgeois education and pre-professional culture. We need to learn that circumspect pleading and gentle prodding never produce results. We need to be willing to mobilize our bodies, take risks, and be rude for justice.

If the Hoya Editorial Board wants to talk organizing tactics, they should get out of the office and into the streets.

GU Fossil Free Members Attempt to Walk in to Board Meeting

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Today, six GU Fossil Free members attempted to walk into the full body meeting of the Board of Directors. They were met with a resounding ‘no’ by university administrators. Because we believe that we deserve a seat at the table when they discuss the proposal we have been crafting and refining for over two years, we decided to read out and mic check the following statement:

“Hello Members of the Board of Directors,

We are the members of GU Fossil Free. We have felt the need to come before all of you today in order to ensure that each and every one of you hears from us why Georgetown must divest fully from the 200 companies in our proposal. We met with five of you last night, and are incredibly grateful for your thoughtful and authentic engagement. Thank you, again. It is because we sincerely respect and appreciate the time and energy each of you devote to building a better Georgetown, and because of the careful thought this body is dedicating to an issue that we students have worked tirelessly since January 2013 to bring to this table, that we believe all of you deserve to hear the student voices driving this movement.

Divestment is fundamentally about social justice. It is a reverberating act of solidarity with marginalized communities bearing the brunt of the serious harms associated with fossil fuel extraction and global climate change, and with generations to come. As a university that takes to heart its roots in Catholic social teaching and Jesuit identity, Georgetown has a commitment to these communities and to our human family. By continuing to profit from an industry so implicated in systemic injustice, we are not only condoning death and destruction–we are enabling and perpetuating it. Moral consistency demands that we pull our financial and political support from all of these companies.

You all will receive or have received a letter from us in which we reiterate that full divestment from these 200 companies is a reasonable compromise for an endowment that is currently invested without any ethical screens. What we are asking for is the first step; full divestment has always been and will continue to remain our priority.

We close by reminding you that justice delayed is justice denied. The fossil fuel divestment movement is picking up steam worldwide and Georgetown has the opportunity to be a moral leader if it acts now. We urge you today to vote YES on FULL divestment at your next Board meeting in the early summer. We are here to show our faces to you, to ask you from the depth of our hearts to consider fully and completely this issue, and to make the right decision come summer.

Thank you very much.”