Students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign staged a climate strike Sept. 23 to demand the institution divest from companies that profit from fossil fuel production.
The campus group Students for Environmental Concerns led more than 100 students around the U of I campus, chanting phrases like, “We will not rest until we divest.”
Multiple students spoke at the event, with some bringing up the recent devastation caused by floods in Pakistan and the hurricane in Puerto Rico. They said these events were a direct effect of climate change.
Gabe Kosmacher, president of SECS, said he wants to see action from the university.
“We would like the University of Illinois to not only follow the referendum passed in 2019 and fully divest from fossil fuels, but also adhere to their own climate action plan, which calls for a full divestment of fossil fuels by 2025,” Kosmacher said.
Kosmacher said that the Illinois Climate Action Plan, which is intended to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, that plan is non-binding, and school officials have yet to release any statements on their divestment progress.
He said students and the university have a similar goal of being more sustainable, but he said students have long criticized the university’s path to achieving that goal.
“I think everybody, you know, community members and the University of Illinois, wants to see a greener and healthier and livelier future for us all, and it’s just about getting on the same page to getting that done that’s really important,” Kosmacher said.
He said he’d like to see Chancellor Robert Jones and other U of I officials actively divest from these companies in the coming years.
Many students at the event said they were upset at the university, including Isabella Strohmeier, a student and member of the campus group Young Democratic Socialists of America.
“We put so much trust into our school when we sign that commitment form, and we put so much of our parents’ money, our money into this university,” Strohmeier said. “It should reflect our best interests and our earth. People should care.”
Nicole Cruz, a sophomore in brain and cognitive science, agreed.
“I feel that it’s unfair to us because we are investing our money, our time, our efforts into getting an education and investing in our future, and they’re investing our money into a worse future for us, so it’s really unfair to us,” Cruz said.
Cruz said that everyone, not just students, should be concerned about this issue.
“I think that everybody should come together and unify because climate change is going to affect everybody no matter who you are, where you’re at in your life,” she said. “I think that everybody should come together to fight this global devastation that’s going on”.
Arthur Espinosa, a sophomore in computer engineering, said people should be concerned about the university’s investment in fossil fuel companies because the effects of climate change impact everyone.
“Climate change is happening and is worsening,” he said. “Them investing that money to those companies is contributing to the further destruction of our environment.”.
Associate Chancellor for Public Affairs Robin Kaler said in a statement that the university continues to demonstrate sustainable practices to reduce its carbon footprint and reach carbon-neutrality.
She did not directly address the protesters’ concerns about university investments.