A swarm of UW-Madison students and community members, led by the student organization Climate Action 350 and its city affiliate 350 Madison, protested in front of Chancellor Rebecca Blank’s office Thursday to demand the divestment from fossil fuels.
Divestment would include the university and the UW Foundation taking all the money that is invested in fossil fuels, which scientists have attributed as a cause of global warming, and putting that money into ethical and sustainable entities, according to the organization. Once it is removed, Climate Action 350 will have no control over where it is placed, but will have suggestions of what would be better.
“Divestment is very important for UW-Madison to take action on very soon and set a precedent for the rest of the Big Ten colleges,” said Jace Steward, a freshman Climate Action 350 member. “We need to set an example of how to invest while keeping moral structure.”
Although there were only about 20 people present, Ben Peterson of 350 Madison noted that people in the Madison community are growing more aware of this issue and taking action.
“It’s more of a signal, I think. It’s a sign that people are not willing to put their money towards something that they see as damaging the planet. It signals to what we are transitioning to in the future,” said Peterson.
In a statement, the university noted that the UW Foundation is separate from UW-Madison.
"The UW Foundation is a private entity independent from UW-Madison. Gift agreements with our donors specify the program the donor intends to support and the terms under which the gift is received," said Vince Sweeney, vice president for communications for the UW Foundation and Alumni Association, in the statement. "Our investment policies remain driven by our obligation to maximize the impact of a donor's gift on the intended program. We believe this policy is in the best interests of all who care about the University and its mission.”
The group met at the bottom of Bascom Hill and marched up to Bascom Hall, chanting their requests the whole way. Students entered the building, leaving community protesters outside to continue rallying to the public. They sat outside of Blank’s office in hopes they could have a conversation with her, but she was not present.
“We’re hoping now that the climate change environment has changed a little bit that [Blank] will be more open to discussion and possibly to holding student forums or sitting down with us and having an open talk and not being so against fossil fuel divestment,” said Climate Action 350 board member Lauren Peretz, a UW-Madison junior.
Associate Dean of Students Kevin Helmkamp spoke with the group to gain more information on the issue, which he agreed to forward to the chancellor. The group remained for another half hour and left, considering this rally a success.
“Money is power, and divestment from fossil fuel companies is taking power away from those that are severely harming our planet and our future,” said Halle Lambeau, another freshman organization member. “Divestment is taking a stand.”
Peretz said the group plans to push forward until the university divests, but is aware that it will take a long time for its goal to be realized.
UPDATE: This article has been updated to include an official statement from the university.