Protesters march on UMW Board of Visitors meeting

UMW students march to protest the arrest of fellow students at a campus sit-in.

One year ago, University of Mary Washington student activists staged a sit-in outside President Rick Hurley’s office to demand an end to fossil-fuel investments in the school’s $41.4 million endowment. UMW officials passed a resolution Friday doing just that.

The University of Mary Washington board of visitors voted to make divestment from fossil fuel companies an official policy.

The move came after three years of protests and petitions from the student-led Divest UMW group. About 50 members of Divest UMW watched the Friday vote and then left the room to cheer their victory.

The resolution requests that the UMW Foundation revise its investment policy to limit discretionary fossil-fuel investments to a range of one to four percent. The university’s endowment will be 96 percent to 100 percent free of the “carbon 200”—the largest 200 companies profiting from fossil fuels. It also requests an annual report on the endowment’s divestment.

The move comes on the heels of a study conducted by a special subcommittee of The President’s Council on Sustainability.

UMW President Rick Hurley, who requested the study and put forth the resolution, said the decision will reflect the school’s moral and political aims, draw environmentally-minded students and support UMW’s goal of being an environmental sustainability leader.

“The board of visitors takes seriously its fiduciary responsibility to protect the foundation’s investment of UMW’s endowment,” said BOV rector Holly Cuellar. “At the same time, it is important that this University continue to be a leader on the sustainability front and that we remain vigilant in seeking additional ways to demonstrate our commitment to the environment.”

“We’re ecstatic,” Divest UMW member Sarah Kinzer said. “We’re absolutely counting this as a win.”

Though the university has voted to divest, she said the group won’t disappear.

Kinzer said they will continue to work for environmental justice and support other schools.

The movement at UMW has invigorated efforts across the country, according a statement by climate action group 350.org.

Campus divestment groups recently kicked off a month of action.

University of Massachusetts–Amherst participants were in their fifth day of a sit-in Friday that has resulted in the arrests of 34 students. Four students with Divest Harvard at Harvard University were arrested during a sit-in at the Federal Reserve Bank building and Students at Swarthmore College are also staging a sit-in.

UMW’s 21-day sit-in last year resulted in the arrest of students Noah Goodwin and Adam Wander, along with Fredericksburg resident Nina Angelini. The charges were later dropped.

“This decision is the result of the collective work of hundreds of students over several years,” Kinzer said in a press release. “As the first Virginia university to divest, Mary Washington can now proudly call itself an ethical place to learn — one that values the lives of those affected by climate change and acts on those values.”

​Lindley Estes: 540.735-1976

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