‘Fund Students, Not Big Oil’: Divest U Holds Protest on Earth Day

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Natalie Colby

Moira Turner speaks at climate protest held by Divest U at the Union Plaza on April 22, 2021. (Photo by Natalie Colby | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Kayleigh Silverstein, Assistant News Editor

 

 

On Earth Day 2021, Divest U, a student organization aimed at divesting the University of Utah’s endowment in fossil fuels, led a protest to demand the U fund students, not big oil. 

About 50 people, both representatives of various organizations and U students, gathered outside the Union building to shout chants such as “people over profit” and listen to speeches. 

The protest began with a land acknowledgment and prayer from Carl Moore, the co-founder of Salt Lake City Air Protectors. 

“So we are all visitors here. If you’re not Ute, Shoshone, Goshute, you’re visitors here, and it is your moral responsibility to look for guidance and also just see what their struggles are,” Moore said. 

Ephraim Kum, the former student body president of the U, began his speech by acknowledging how beautiful this Earth Day was, with the valley not completely obstructed by inversion. 

“Our home is beautiful, but we are here today because it is our responsibility to keep our home beautiful and to do our part, however we can,” Kum said. “The day that our home is no longer beautiful, it won’t even be safe to call home.”

In an interview after the protest, Kum said he wants the U to not only divest but also shorten its timeline for its carbon neutrality goal. 

“I think the University has, like I said, an opportunity but also a responsibility to truly be a university for Utah,” Kum said. 

Hannah Taub, an environmental humanities graduate student and member of Divest U, said the organization wants the board of trustees and eventually the U as a whole to fully divest from fossil fuels to protect the interests of students, the community, and the world. 

“We want everyone to have access to clean water and a healthy environment, and divestment is just one part of that movement,” she said. 

Another member of Divest U, first-year law student Taylor Monney said the protest was about putting pressure on the U to use its influence in the state by taking decisive climate action. 

“6-9% of that $1 billion endowment fund is invested in the fossil fuel industry,” he said. “That’s our money going against our futures when instead it could be funding renewable energies and community projects that build up and create a better future for us.”

This protest comes four days before the ASUU academic senate votes on whether or not the U should divest its endowment from fossil fuels. If it passes in the senate, the bill will then be sent to the U Board of Trustees.  

Rebecca Hardenbrook, an organizer with Divest U, ended the protest by urging people to join the academic senate meeting and participate in the public comment section, making their voices heard. 

“We can’t just settle for what the university says,” Hardenbrook said. “If we don’t get full divestment, we’re going to keep going. We’re going to keep demanding full divestment, because the University’s mission is to maintain the well-being of students and their health and the global community, and that starts with divestment.”

Divest U hopes to get their petition demanding a fossil-free future to 2,000 signatures.

 

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