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UCSB Chancellor Addresses Student Demands After Sit-In For Fossil-Fuel Divestment

Henry Yang announced he supports the efforts of those involved in 3-day protest at university's administration building

Students at UC Santa Barbara have been staging a multi-day sit-in demanding that the university divest itself from the fossil-fuel industry. Click to view larger
Students at UC Santa Barbara have been staging a multi-day sit-in demanding that the university divest itself from the fossil-fuel industry. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)
Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Margaret Klawunn addresses a a crowd of more than 75 protesters on Thursday, reading a statement from Chancellor Henry Yang supporting their call for the university to divest itself from the fossil-fuel industry. Click to view larger
Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Margaret Klawunn addresses a a crowd of more than 75 protesters on Thursday, reading a statement from Chancellor Henry Yang supporting their call for the university to divest itself from the fossil-fuel industry. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Chancellor Henry Yang announced Thursday that UC Santa Barbara supports the campaign to divest from the fossil-fuel industry, a declaration that comes after hours of negotiations with students and multiple days into a staged sit-in.

Yang’s endorsement came after UCSB student activists camped inside the school’s administration building for three days.

Roughly 350 students had been occupying the inside lobby near the president’s office in Cheadle Hall since 10 a.m. Monday, demanding that the University of California commit to complete fossil-fuel divestment.

More than 25 UCSB faculty members have also sent supportive statements.

The demonstration was coordinated by the student group Fossil Free UCSB.

Among their demands are calling upon UC Regent Richard Sherman — who chairs the UC’s investment committee —  to divest the university’s $2.8 billion invested in fossil-fuel companies. The organization claims it is hypocritical for the UC to finance billions in fossil fuel corporations while declaring to be trailblazers in the fight against climate change.

Signs saying "Do UC the Hypocrisy?" lined the inside and outside of the administration building.

Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Margaret Klawunn addressed a a crowd of more than 75 protesters, reading a statement issued on Yang's behalf.

The announcement pledged to collaborate on the topic with fellow UC system chancellors, endorsed the fossil-fuel divestment campaign, and supported Fossil Free UC — a network of UC divestment campaigns asking the University of California to end connections with the fossil-fuel industry. 

Yang’s released written statement said:

“I stand by our students who have been sitting in calling for fossil-fuel divestment this past week and support their aims. I furthermore wish to acknowledge the professors and staff at this campus and across the university who deeply care about the moral, political, economic, and scientific imperative of moving away from fossil-fuel dependency.

"Finally, I am pleased to support the incredible efforts the UC has already made toward tackling climate change and providing leadership and solutions that we will all depend on. In the coming week, I look forward to working with my fellow chancellors in support of a thorough and transparent discussion on divestment from fossil fuels as part of the UC’s approach to combating the climate crisis.” 

Fossil Free UCSB and a supporting faculty member have been in-and-out of negotiations with Yang this week to discuss an endorsement. 

Yang’s support comes four days before the UC Regents will meet at UC San Francisco. Students from across UC campuses are expected to show up to urge Sherman to commit to divestment.

UCSB political science major and Fossil Free UCSB campaigner Cassie Macy said it was a “great success” that Yang backed the group's demands.

“Students showed up and showed their power this week because the fossil-fuel industry intends to burn five times more coal, oil and gas than is safe for a stable climate,” Macy said. “We believe the sit-in is why we came to this accomplishment. It’s important for us to be the leaders towards the fight against climate change.” 

Macy said 80 percent of fossil fuels must remain below the ground “to avoid climate catastrophe, but the UC continues to invest in companies whose business plan depends upon destabilizing the future safety and security of its students.” 

Fossil Free UCSB spokeswoman and  first year UCSB student Celeste Argueta called Yang’s endorsement a historic victory for the participating students and for the UCSB community making it clear the campus will stand with the coalition.

“Remaining neutral is simply not an option,” Argueta said. “We hope this will inspire students across the nation to show that actions and students abilities can make a campaign successful. We hope this will instigate a nationwide movement for sustainability and divestment from fossil fuels.”

The students who took over the building have ended their sit-in.

Students sleeping inside the administration building brought in their sleeping bags, pillows, food and water.

A core member of Fossil Free UCSB, Claire Wilson, 21, had stayed overnight since Monday and attended negotiation meetings with Yang.

She missed some of her classes, and only left the building once for a shower and to attend work.

“This has been an amazing educational moment,” Wilson said. “Some professors brought their classes to see what activism looks like. It has been an education moment about divestment from fossil fuels. It feels unreal to be part of something grassroots.”

As an environmental studies major, Wilson said she will continue to dedicate her life towards finding solutions to climate change.

“I was shocked when I found out the UCs were investing this amount of money,” Wilson said. “The core of the divestment moment and climate justice moment is that we need to take morality and social obligation, in addition to economic incentives, in what we choose to invest our money in.”

Thursday’s announcement isn’t the first time students activists have pressured administrators to divest from the fossil-fuel industry.

After years of student concerns, University of California divested nearly $200 million from oil sands companies and coal mining industries focused on tar sands in 2015, Wilson said.

UCSB students also held protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline’s construction, and the UC Regents investments office said in March that it had removed approximately $150 million of its investments in fossil fuel companies since 2014.

The UC system pulled funds from Sunoco Logistics and Energy Transfer Partners, two companies linked to the DAPL construction.

“We have had some small successes, but we are now talking about a lot of money that is invested in oil and natural gas,” Wilson said.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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