Fossil Free kicks off Cathedral sit-in demanding vote on divestment

Members+and+allies+of+the+Fossil+Free+Pitt+Coalition+began+a+24%2F7+sit-in+in+the+Cathedral+of+Learning+on+Feb.+21.++Joy+Cao+%7C+Staff+Photographer+

Members and allies of the Fossil Free Pitt Coalition began a 24/7 sit-in in the Cathedral of Learning on Feb. 21. Joy Cao | Staff Photographer

By Janine Faust, Editor-in-chief

Midterm season is approaching, meaning plenty of students will be staying overnight in campus buildings to get extra studying in. Some have decided to rally for divestment while they’re at. 

The Fossil Free Pitt Coalition began occupying space in the Cathedral of Learning’s lobby Friday at noon in another effort to convince Pitt stop investing some of its $4.3 billion University endowment in the fossil fuel industry. FFPC has been calling for divestment since 2014, expressing concerns over the industry’s impact on the environment, and has recently been pressuring Pitt to vote to divest at the next Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 28. 

“We are occupying Cathy because it’s time for a vote,” a press release issued by the FFPC said. “If the Board of Directors is granted another undisclosed amount of time to learn what the rest of the world already knows  — fossil fuels are a bad investment — lives, cultures, and species, will be lost.” 

Organizer Annalise Abraham said at the sit-in Friday afternoon there is no set time limit on how long FFPC plans to occupy the Cathedral — members plan on staying as long as possible, including overnight, until they receive a response from Pitt. 

“We’ve made our demands clear to the University, and the information has been readily clear to them for years now about why they should divest,” she said. 

The sit-in comes a week after FFPC’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Day rally outside the Cathedral on Feb. 13, where they joined numerous other student groups at campuses across the nation demanding that their respective universities divest. 

[Read: Students hold rally urging fossil fuel divestment] [Photos: Fossil Free Pitt Rally]

Abraham said that organizers are trying to build off of that momentum with the sit-in — the largest statement FFPC is making to date. 

“We’re hoping that once other students see what we’re doing they’ll come and join us,” she said. “We’re planning to have as many people here as possible all the time.”  

Students study while participating in FFPC’s 24/7 sit-in. Janine Faust | Contributing Editor

In a statement, Pitt spokesperson Kevin Zwick said Pitt’s Board of Trustees will consider proposals made by Chancellor Patrick Gallagher based on the findings of Pitt’s Socially Responsible Investing Committee in the summer of 2019. This includes an update on Environmental, Social and Governance criteria, a resolution on an SRI process that allows community concerns to be considered in making investment exclusions and a resolution of support for Pitt’s commitment to become carbon neutral.

“In the last week, several leaders from the University again met with members of the Student Government Board and Fossil Free Coalition to update them on our sustainability efforts and to confirm that the Board will not be voting on divestment at the Feb. 28 meeting,” he added. 

Abraham said FFPC is dissatisfied that the Board plans on considering the proposed SRI process on Feb. 28 instead of having a vote to divest. 

“[Pitt] is just going to set up another committee just to discuss the issue of fossil fuels, which is great in theory but they’ve had this info for years upon years now,” she said. “We don’t need another committee at this point.” 

A student works while participating in FFPC’s sit-in in the Cathedral lobby on Friday.

Anna Coleman, an FFPC organizer and sophomore statistics and global studies major present at the sit-in Friday afternoon said the progress on the part of the university is not enough and that FFPC wants decisions being made in a more timely fashion. She said efforts on the part of FFPC to meet with administrators about divestment did not go far beyond sitting in meeting rooms. 

“What we were doing before was just ending in stalemates,” she said. “ We hope that they vote to divest.” 

Besides demanding that the Board hold a vote on divestment, FFPC is also asking that trustees with direct ties to the fossil fuel industry abstain from the vote. It is also demanding that a public comment period at Board meetings and for students to “have a seat at the table” regarding any ensuing reinvestment decisions. 

Coleman said FFPC is not breaking the Student Code of Conduct by staying late in the Cathedral and doing academic work there after hours. Students at the sit-in will remain peaceful and not disrupt the educational space. 

“We’re trying to be visible and put pressure on Pitt, but not trying to escalate it where the University takes punitive action,” she said. 

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that FFPC was dissatisfied with the SRI Committee established by Pitt in 2018. This article has been updated to clarify that FFPC specifically takes issue with the Board of Trustee’s decision to vote on an SRI process proposed by the committee instead of voting to divest on Feb. 28. The Pitt News regrets this error. 

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