Student-led campaign aims to divest Duke from fossil fuel industries
A group of Duke students are campaigning to remove the University’s investments in the top 200 publicly-traded companies.
Divest Duke, started in Fall 2012 by a group of graduate students, is a movement attempting to stop Duke from investing its assets for the betterment of the environment. The group, now expanding to undergraduates, is working to gain a larger following before approaching administrators with its proposed changes.
Courtney Trutna, a freshman volunteer for Divest Duke, said that Divest Duke hopes to raise more public awareness for the issue of climate change and the power that is given to fossil fuel companies through investments.
“Pulling out investments is the only way to make fossil fuel companies understand that the public is serious about the environment, and that climate change caused by fossil fuel industries is strongly protested,” Trunta said.
Divest Duke is currently trying to involve undergraduate students in greater numbers.
Undergraduates are the heart of Duke, said Emily Palmer, a field organizer at Green Corps. Palmer was sent to the University from the organization’s field school for environmental organizing to assist the campaign.
“If we could build up leadership and engagement amongst the undergrads, we think that is going to make our campaign incredibly strong.” Palmer said.
Since the beginning of last week, fliers and posters about Divest Duke have spread to various places on campus.
“We’ve only been out talking to people [about] the campaign since Monday [Sept. 2],” Palmer said. “In the last five days actually, we’ve had over 250 sign on.”
Palmer said 250 is a number she has no doubt will increase.
Divest Duke plans to follow the steps set by preceding campaigns. One example the group hopes to emulate is the conflict minerals divestment campaign in Spring 2012, led in part by current Duke Student Government President Stefani Jones, a senior. Jones’ campaign succeeded in having the Board of Trustees pass investment guidelines regarding conflict minerals.
“They kind of legitimized [divestment] as a means to make social change on campus,” Palmer said.
Divestment as a student movement to take a stance on social issues has been a practice for almost three decades, ever since the call for divestment from South Africa in protest of the Apartheid in the 1980s. Campaigning for divestment from fossil fuels has gained attention nationwide. 11 cities in the United States have committed to divest from fossil fuels, including San Francisco, Seattle and Madison.
Universities like Harvard University and Stanford University have also expressed willingness to address the issue by hiring full-time endowment employees dedicated to fossil fuel divestments.
“Divestment campaigns for fossil fuels are happening all over the country, but no school as big as Duke has made a public commitment to divesting,” said Jennifer Lunde, a junior and environmental science major who is actively involved in the campaign.
At the same time, however, officials at schools including Vassar College and Middlebury College chose not to divest from fossil fuels.
The decisions against divestment at other schools resulted mainly from administrators’ concerns for endowment returns and financial loss. However, Palmer said that the main priority for Divest Duke is that the University’s investments be sustainable and in line with its goal to be an environmentally conscious school.
“Divest Duke is an opportunity for Duke to take a stance on fossil fuels and global climate change,” Lunde said.
The campaign has not yet approached administrators about the issue, Palmer said. The campaign hopes to get more signatures on its petition before doing so.
“We can only do this with student engagement and student support,” Lunde said.
Lunde said that the University has made commitments in the past to be sustainable, but said that explicit support for divestment would give the initiatives more clout.
“If President [Richard] Brodhead can make the public statement saying that Duke is divesting from fossil fuels, that will just skyrocket in terms of leadership and our status as a sustainable university,” Lunde said.
Divest Duke will hold its first big event, a general kick-off meeting, on Sept. 19.