RISD Students Stage Nation's First Fossil Fuel Divestment Sit-In

Updated at 4:00pm ET with a statement from the college administration.

The fossil fuel divestment movement is heating up around the country.

Today, 11 students at the Rhode Island School of Design are sitting in at their President's office to demand that he and the Board of Trustees Chair personally endorse divestment from the coal, gas, and oil industries and present the case for divestment to the Board of Trustees at their upcoming meeting. Here's a link where you can watch videos recorded earlier today from the sit-in and the solidarity rally outside the office:

"I want to have kids. I want to show them this planet," said Phoebe Wahl, a RISD senior. "As artists and designers, we are innovators with the ability to shape our own future. The way that our generation deals with this issue will define the future of civilization."

According a press release issued by the Divest RISD, the student group organizing the sit-in, RISD students have been pushing for divestment since January, but after an initially positive response, the Board of Trustees has now refused to move any proposals forward despite large amounts of support from students and faculty. In response, RISD students are stepping it up a notch.

"Our demands could not be more reasonable or more feasible. We want the college immediately to stop making new investments in fossil fuel companies, and then to sell off their holdings over five years," said Emma Beede, a RISD senior.

Update at 4:00pm ET: After reading this blog post, the Director of Media Relations at RISD sent over a email challenging the statement that students haven't gotten an open response from the administration. Here is the official statement from the Michael Spalter, chair of the Board of Trustees at RISD:

"We recognize the passion of certain members of our community about divestment, and expect no less from the globally-minded citizens that fill the RISD campus and global community. Ours is a vibrant and diverse community of more than 28,000 students, faculty, staff and alumni whose creativity has made an impact across the world, in traditional art and design fields and beyond. We celebrate everyone's right to pursue causes they believe in and we are just beginning to explore this complex issue. As a first step, the Board is in the initial phases of forming a Study Group on Divestment to explore different approaches in the context of our fiduciary responsibility. We look forward to the process yielding insight and to becoming more informed about this issue and its implications for RISD."

The fossil fuel divestment movement started to take-off on campus last fall. Now, students at over 300 colleges and universities have joined the campaign. Four small colleges, Unity, Hampshire, Sterling, and College of the Atlantic have committed to divestment.

In the coming weeks, students on dozens of campuses will be meeting with their boards of trustees or administrators to push their colleges to also take action. On May 2, students will be highlighting all of these efforts in a national day of action. More information can be found at GoFossilFree.org.

All of the action on-campus has helped propel the divestment movement off-campus to cities and states across the country. There are now more than 100 petitions up and running on the GoFossilFree.org website calling on local governments to divest.

The organizing is having an impact. Last November, the Mayor of Seattle committed to keep his city funds out of fossil fuels and work with the city's retirement board to fully divest the city pension fund. Just last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors followed his lead, voting unanimously to push the city's $16 billion retirement fund to divest over $583 million from 91 different fossil fuel companies. On Thursday, 9 more Mayors from Richmond, CA to Madison, WI to Santa Fe, NM committed to divest their cities from coal, oil and gas companies.

In the 1980s, 155 campuses and around 90 cities in the United States divested from South Africa, helping turn the fight against apartheid into an international cause. This new divestment movement is just getting started -- but with cities quickly getting on board and students at schools like RISD beginning to turn up the heat, the fossil fuel divestment campaign is beginning to put pressure where it counts.