American University caves to environmentalist students' demands

A student group at AU says that this move is not enough, and now they want to have a say where all investments go.

American University caved to students’ demands to divest from fossil fuels.

American University in Washington, D.C. has caved to demands to divest from all fossil fuel investments. The university announced in a press release April 22 that it has officially sold off all of its indirect investments in fossil fuels from its endowment portfolio. 

The school stated that the university has had little to no direct investment in fossil fuels for the last three years, but that its endowment portfolio included a $12.9 million “fossil fuel exposure." Over the last few months, the board of trustees, the governing body of American University, sold off $350 million in commingled and index funds to officially shift all funds away from fossil fuels. 

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The move officially comes after a seven-year-long battle between students and the university. In 2013, students at American University passed a referendum advocating for divestment from all fossil fuel investments. This was to avail, however. According to the Eagle, the American University newspaper, less than a year after the passage of this initial referendum, the board of trustees opted against such a divestment. 

But, recently, the student body passed another referendum supporting the same measure, this time with 93 percent of students in favor. 

In 2012, a group of American University students formed a group called Fossil Free AU. According to the same Eagle news report, the group has previously met with the University president and even protested outside a prior board of trustees meeting, all to no immediate avail. According to the Fossil Free AU Twitter page, the group is “Building a campaign at @AmericanU to #DivestAU and our endowment from the fossil fuel industry.”

Anthony Torres, a former American University student and one of the first organizers of Fossil Free AU wrote in a tweet that he is proud of the group's continued effort. He said, “After 8 years of organizing, this Earth Day, @FossilFreeAU finally won!” 

 Despite their recent victory in swaying the board of trustees and several signals of having "won," the group’s official statement says that the fight still continues: “We hope that AU will commit to collaborating with Fossil Free AU, the student body, and the community on the University’s plans for reinvestment."

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A spokesperson for Fossil Free AU said that this is just one step in their fight.

“While Fossil Free American University applauds the University's decision to divest their endowment from the destructive fossil fuel industry, this is only one step towards a just university,” Marley Weist said, according to the Eagle.

In an official university statement, AU President Sylvia Burwell said that this move is a part of the university’s DNA. 

“For more than a decade, AU has been on a campus-wide sustainability journey—something that’s not just part of our mission, but our DNA as changemakers,” said President Sylvia M. Burwell. “Our actions, from reaching carbon neutrality to the board’s commitment to evolving our investments, will continue to serve as a model for sustainability...”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @cam_deckr