April 22, 2013

USF Students Gather for Divestment Teach-In

On Earth Day 2013, April 22nd at noon, students from USF Tampa's Student Environmental Association gathered for a Divestment Workshop Teach-In. Kevin Blossfeld of the St. Petersburg USF campus and a journalist of the campus paper, The Oracle, joined the meeting as well. While invitations had been sent to many administrators and offices of the Tampa campus to join them in the president's conference room in the Patel Center for Global Solutions, none attended this meeting. Nevertheless, the students had a productive and educational experience as they discussed the history and impact of Divestment in various contexts but especially that of the environment. They also explored the impact of Divestment specifically to the USF campus from many angles to conclude that Divestment in order to move toward cleaner energy on this campus is the best solution.

The meeting began with a bit of a speed bump. When I first arrived, the front desk informed me that the meeting had been moved to the first floor of the building, far away from any administrators that had been invited to this meeting. After a few minutes of waiting, I was brought up to the fourth floor. Our meeting in the president's conference room had been replaced with another meeting scheduled by the Chief Operating Officer, which, while understandable since our meeting was only a student organization's underneath an administrator's need, was strange considering this particular officer had accepted our invitation initially to our event. Perplexed, we moved into the Provost conference room instead. No one else joined us and the president's conference room remained empty, dark, and shut tight. An undercover police officer, we believed, had been investigating this situation subtley as we began our workshop. This was understandable, too, considering the amount of activity that a few student organizations have had in their efforts to meet with President Genshaft; however, I couldn't help feeling slightly nervous since all we wanted to do was hold an open-ended conversation about our idea. Not wanting conflict, though, we stayed quiet and shut our door to begin our meeting, with or without the administrators.

The meeting itself was quite productive, in my opinion. Being almost completely uneducated about Divestment up until a few weeks ago, as I am a new member of the SEA and am a first year student here at USF, I found this teach-in highly educational. I was surprised to learn that the Environmental Divestment Campaign only started about three years ago, and already almost 300 universities are working towards a Divestment plan. Overall, I think the history made us realize that it is essential that we establish a timetable for our strategic plan. More personally impactful than the history, though, was our discussion of unanimity and accountability for our actions as a university.

Here's a basic summary of what the members concluded:

Climate change and dirty energy extraction and use has become a moral problem. Every day, our extraction methods and use of dirty energy slowly kills communities. It kills individuals. It is a social injustice, then, to support such a system. Environmentally, of course, it is not right to be polluting our Earth, either. As Sarah Carter, SEA member, stated, USF's seal boasts of this university's "Truth and Wisdom." They are our core values. "Investing in this is neither truthful nor wise... [There is] no other option but divestment," Carter says. We must, therefore, take accountability for the movements we support. To do this, we must redefine our idea of social accountability and justifications to include the effects of investments in nonrenewable resources. Our goals also conflict when the powerful research this university conducts assists in a more environmentally sustainable future but we continue to invest in natural gas and other dirty sources of energy almost entirely. In St. Petersburg, for example, grants are given to research the effects of the BP Oil Spill; however, our investments still support the oil companies (Blossfeld). Our university will advance only in small steps if we cannot unite our efforts in one direction of environmental sustainability. Shaza Hussein, the Director of Politics and Activism in the SEA, pointed out that we "do not need to decrease economic stability in order to increase environmental sustainability." Investing in cleaner energy is not a large risk in sight of the instability of problems such as the coal bubble.

Divestment is an ethical topic. It is an economic topic, and it ultimately challenges the way our society thinks about the environment and use of energy as a whole. For these reasons, I can understand why it is such a difficult and complex concept to even approach. I must admit, especially as an individual that has no experience dealing with such grand strategic plans, I am somewhat intimidated by the entire idea. However, I cannot ignore the issues that Divestment reaches to fix. Our current energy plan is something that is killing our planet and ourselves. Hussein mentioned that we must destroy our current system to have a better one. But we are already destroying ourselves. We invest in a system that poisons our communities and earth and uses unstable and nonrenewable resources as if the future generations don't matter. But we can change.

At the conclusion of the meeting, we all posed outside of the conference room with our new banner that will follow us throughout the campaign:

For more information about USF's campaign on Divestment, see the Oracle article (which made the front page on April 23rd, 2013!!)