American University Puts Fossil Fuel Industry Over Students

Video: American University students read letters they sent to members of the Board of Trustees' with their personal reasons for supporting fossil fuel divestment.

On November 21, 2014, the Board of Trustees of American University voted in favor of supporting climate destruction, refusing to divest its $550 million endowment from the fossil fuel industry and placing American University firmly on the wrong side of history.

The student group Fossil Free American University has been leading the divestment movement on campus for two years, and 80% of the student body, faculty, alumni, and several donors support their campaign. By refusing to divest, the Board of Trustees ignored the voices of its community, which are simultaneously used to market American University to incoming students.

Cambridge Associates, the firm that manages American University's endowment, recently announced it will offer fossil free portfolios for schools looking to divest, and manage fossil free endowments. Despite this announcement, the American University Board of Trustees tried to blame Cambridge for its decision to divest saying that the company could not "ensure" the university would lose money. However, since the money in the endowment is in the market, nothing can actually be guaranteed.

After the vote's announcement at a forum open to the public, those supporting divestment expressed their disgust with the Board's decision. Many people, including myself, shared their own intimate, and often tragic, reasons this decision made them ashamed of the University's choice. I spoke of the recent flash floods in my birthplace of Argentina, which left 50 dead. Emily Dalgo, a sophomore of Mississippi, related her memories of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill that destroyed the Gulf Coast in 2010, saying "to know that American University is funding the kinds of industries that cause these disasters makes me sick." Katie Kirchner, a senior and middle school teacher in Southeast Washington, D.C., said "You absolutely have to justify your decision today to me and to everyone else in this room, but more importantly to my students, and to members of the D.C. community who are on the frontlines of climate change."

As I told President Kerwin, Chairman Sine, and the members of the Board in attendance at the forum, this is no longer a problem of the future. This is a problem right now in communities all over the world. The choice to continue investing in fossil fuel companies is a conscious choice to be accomplices in global climate murder.

That might sound dramatic, but communities are being destroyed and people are dying due to effects of climate change right now, while rich men in boardrooms are deciding to look the other way. Students had to stand in exits of the forum to stop Board members from walking out while students were speaking about their homes being destroyed. They were not interested in hearing the consequences of their decision.

Fossil Free American University, and student groups at universities around the country, will not cease to seek climate justice. When institutions silence voices, those silenced turn to methods outside the institution to achieve their goals; we gave the Board of Trustees a chance to do the right thing through their institutional channels, and now they will see the consequences of ignoring us.

As Bill McKibben, founder of, tweeted after the vote, "Now the fight really starts for @FossilFreeAU."