‘The biggest issue of our generation’: Divest STU solidarity rally

    Students gathered in front of George Martin Hall on Nov. 19, 2021, to raise awareness for Divest STU. (Jessica Saulnier/AQ)

    A group of around 40 students gathered in front of George Martin Hall on St. Thomas University’s campus on Friday to raise awareness for Divest STU.

    Divest STU is a student-led campaign that calls for the university to remove the investments it made into the fossil fuel industry and reinvest the money into sustainable holdings.

    “If you’ve never heard of divestment before, it is absolutely worth learning about. Divestment campaigns are used to call upon establishments to step up as institutional leaders in the climate crisis,” said Kelly Green, coordinator of Divest STU.

    As of March 2021, Green said the university invested approximately $884,000 into oil, gas and coal companies.

    Green is calling upon STU to hold its investments into the fossil fuel industry. She said the industries that STU invests in are compromising the future of their current students. Green said it’s no longer morally, environmentally or fiscally defensible for STU to continue investing in fossil fuels. Instead, the university should reallocate its holdings into eco-conscious areas such as renewable energy and sustainable developments in agriculture and design.

    Kelly Green, the coordinator of Divest STU, said St. Thomas University invested around $884,000 into oil, gas and coal companies. (Jessica Saulnier/AQ)

    Green said taking action on climate change is needed from an institutional level in the province. She said STU’s action is hypocritical and also questions the ethical and moral stance of the STU administration.

    “Divestment is one of the most powerful steps an educational institution can take to push the national and international discourse on climate change,” she said.

    Green said many Canadian universities have already divested from fossil fuels and have joined the global chain of 1,497 institutions across the world that have taken action.

    Some of these Canadian universities include the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, Concordia University, Lakehead University, the University of Guelph, Laval University, the University of Quebec and the University of Toronto.

    Green said UofT held the largest fossil fuel holding investment out of all Canadian universities.

    “Not only is fossil fuel divestment a key interest in sustainability and a fantastic display of institutional leadership and climate action, [but] it also takes in the interest of investors. As fossil fuel stocks have well underperformed in the last five years – divesting is a well-rounded, future-oriented financial decision,” said Green.

    Divest STU is calling upon St. Thomas University to hold its investments into the fossil fuel industry. (Jessica Saulnier/AQ)

    During the 2019-20 academic year, Green said there was a unanimous vote from the STU Students’ Union and the Faculty Association of the University of St. Thomas (FAUST) in favour of divesting fossil fuels.

    Divest STU has a petition that anyone can sign. It has approximately 300 signatures from students, staff, alumni and community members.

    “It is evident to us that the student community is interested in seeing progressive change in the university’s investments and gathering here today is a fantastic display of that,” said Green.

    Other speakers attended to show their support.

    Mike Flemming, professor of sociology and criminology at STU, attended the rally on behalf of FAUST.

    FAUST is the professional organization that represents the faculty members at STU.

    “As [Green] mentioned, in 2019, we passed a unanimous motion to look into more ways of finding opportunities for faculty members and staff at St. Thomas to work towards having their pension plans divested from fossil fuel,” he said.

    Flemming said they’re continuing to work with the STU administration to make this a reality.

    St. Thomas University Students’ Union president Tyler MaGee, seen in this file photo, said while divesting fossil fuels isn’t new, it’s important to ensure every avenue is exhausted. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

    Tyler MaGee, president of STUSU, attended the rally on behalf of the executive council. MaGee said while this isn’t a new topic of discussion, the important part is to make sure every avenue is exhausted.

    “We cannot accept climate change as a reality,” said MaGee.

    MaGee also said STUSU is officially recognizing the legitimacy of Divest STU. MaGee said STUSU will use its platform to hold the university accountable for exploring all routes to divestment.

    “STU trains student leaders, they want us to drive change, to be the enacting voice and that is exactly what Divest STU has done. That’s exactly what all of you are actively participating in right now,” said MaGee.

    Last semester, Divest STU created a policy analysis and recommendation for STU. The document highlighted the reasons why STU should divest, the background and the situational analysis.

    Green said the university responded saying they weren’t planning on divesting.

    Her goal is to get STU to divest before she graduates in the spring. Students can help Green with this goal by joining the Student Action Coalition and signing Divest STU’s petition.

    “As students, we really recognize that this is the biggest issue of our generation,” said Green.