Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Divest UMass makes statement to UMass President

The University of Massachusetts student group, Divest UMass, held a protest on Oct. 17 by hanging a sign from the parking garage outside the campus center addressed directly to UMass President Robert Caret as a part of their continued effort to change the way UMass handles its endowment funding.

Evan Sahagian/ Collegian

The growing student organization wants administrators to take charge of how financial experts manage UMass’ endowment hedge fund by freezing and phasing out all investments in fossil fuel industries, and to encourage students to demand more transparency in the funding of their education. College endowments are the nest eggs that maintain a university and are funded by alumni donations that are grown through investments in the stock market that are typically not directly handled by the top school officials.

Divest UMass gained a strong following of students, along with student government and school officials, last year, hoping to spur an end to reliance on fossil fuel profits, which some students and officials consider contradictory to UMass’ ideals of social justice and environmental sustainability. Thursday’s event was aimed to convert the existing student anger into a strong call for action.

“The fossil fuel industry is responsible for 5.1 million climate change related deaths every year. Investing in this industry does not align with our values and threatens the future into which we will graduate. With our student voice we ask you, divest in fossil fuels, reinvest in our future,” read the sign.

The 5.1 million figure used by Divest Umass is based off research contradictory to the United Nations report on climate change, which also stresses the adverse effects of continued reliance on fossil fuels, but estimates the number of annual deaths at 400,000.

Although the current effects of climate change are under question and difficult to gauge, the student body put pressure on administrators during their protest. The group of about 50 students unveiled their sign and drew a crowd of supporters with their chants for divestment, adding strength to their current petition to Caret, which has over 3,000 signatures, according to the group.

Most colleges have divestment groups similar to the one at UMass, and over 300 of these schools have complied with student demands. While the financial effects of the University’s hypothetical divestment on the fossil fuel industry would be very marginal, Divest UMass feels raising awareness is the simple and only step in sparking greater change, because if everyone were aware of the endowment fundraising process, the majority would naturally call for change.

Video: Divest UMass rallies to president Robert Caret from Daily Collegian on Vimeo.

Several Divest UMass activists expressed their belief that they were a voice for the voiceless millions affected by climate change. Their ultimate goal is to achieve “climate justice,” a term for the belief that climate change is a social justice issue that affects people disproportionately along racial and socio-economic lines. The voiceless in need of climate justice would be those out of the headlines who suffer the most from pollution, drought, famine and natural disaster.

Divest UMass needs the support of the President and believe that he will come forward once he is made aware of the damage fossil fuels are causing today. They have not had an opportunity to discuss their views with Caret, but hope that this latest protest has the size to command his attention and will receive his support once students can explain the unfair effects on poor and non-American people that have been kept quiet.

“With the current rate that we are burning fossil fuels, natural disasters are going to become the common thing. It is a fact that climate change is becoming worse, you can see it in [Hurricane] Sandy, droughts or how we are losing crops,” said Zachery Smith, a senior environmental science major involved with Divest UMass. “We need to do something if we are going to have a good future.”

The activists involved in Divest UMass wear orange at their events because orange has become the color divestment movements nationwide have used to symbolize climate justice. Yet Divest UMass’ urgency to change the schools investments does not mean that they see Caret or any other school officials as the enemy. The University has not expressed any official opposition to divestment or even confirmed any knowledge of current investments by their fund managers.

Brian Bevilacqua can be reached at [email protected].

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