Northwestern's Associated Student Government is encouraging faculty, staff, students and alumni to show their support for its Petition for Sustainable Endowment. The petition, passed at the end of January, calls for the university’s full divestment from fossil fuel industries.
Although the Northwestern student body at large may not have a lot at stake, various student groups see merit in getting behind the movement. ASG senator Evan Frohman, who represents Allison Residential Community, sees student involvement as a key benefit of supporting the petition.
“The average student might not feel the impact, but the one discernible thing is that if students know this happened they will know the impact they can have,” he said. “As students here we should all care about the well being of Northwestern because that’s directly correlated to our well being.”
Weinberg sophomore Mark Silberg, ASG’s associate vice president for Sustainability, said that as members of the Northwestern community, staff, students, faculty and alumni should and do have a say in how the endowment is spent. On a university level, Silberg sees this as another opportunity for Northwestern to be a leading university. “This to me is not an issue of reducing harm, it is an opportunity to be a leader," he said.
Northwestern is one of 256 colleges encouraging divestment from the coal industry. In 2005, Northwestern was the third university to divest from oil and electricity companies in Sudan, which Silberg cited as an inspiration for the current petition.
Silberg sees Northwestern as behind the curve compared to peer universities in sustainability, yet he says the progress he has witnessed is astonishing. “We have set a goal, and now we are in the thick of it,” he said.
Although ASG developed the petition, it is not the only student group invested in the cause. Some members of ASG are also involved in Engineers for a Sustainable World and the Northwestern Responsible Endowment Coalition, which is not formally recognized by the University.
Brian Lange, McCormick senior and member of Engineers for a Sustainable World, said, “The thing about people involved in the environmental cause is that there are a bunch of groups and we are kind of in all of them.”
Lange also said the groups work together to ensure they are on the same page about what they are proposing and the steps they are taking to get it done. They have spread the message by posting flyers, advertising on Facebook, sitting in dorm lobbies and speaking with NU students.
“So far we have not encountered any resistance from the university, but it’s also not like [Northwestern president] Morty [Schapiro] has called us and said, ‘Hey, good job,’” he said.
Lange and Silberg agree that this is an effort to work with, not against, the university. Lange said it is easy for activism groups to devolve into yelling at the university, but that’s not constructive for anyone. Silberg also said this is not a petition that wags its finger at the university. “We are merely proposing a suggestion that we address and talk about these issues,” Silberg said.
In order to facilitate this conversation, these student groups need large backing from the student body. Getting their attention and support has been a challenge, Silberg said, but “it has been a joy to frame this issue in a way that appeals to many people.”
McCormick sophomore Alex VanAtta, ASG’s Student Life vice president, said the merit in average students getting involved comes from the great show of student unity and persistence that this petition may bring. “The general idea of students coming behind a single cause and getting it to happen on the university level is something to be proud of,” VanAtta said.