DivestNU promises to escalate campaign


Julia Preszler

Members in DivestNU, the student group calling on the university to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry, said they planned to escalate their campaign after meeting with members of Northeastern’s Senior Leadership (SLT) team Tuesday morning. 

Four students, Austin Williams, Alissa Zimmer, James DeCunzo and Anna Sorokina, said they were unsatisfied by their discussion with SLT members about goals for divestment. DivestNU ended its 13-day occupation of Centennial Commons on Oct. 15 after staging a mock oil spill and die-in during Northeastern’s Prospective Students Day.

“I think the general consensus we got at the meeting was that the administration was unwilling to reconsider their decision against divestment,” said Williams, a DivestNU co-founder and a senior environmental studies and political science major. “What that means for our campaign is that escalation is going to continue until our administration is willing to engage in the critique of the fossil fuel industry and they’re willing to engage with how their institution actively legitimizes the fossil fuel industry’s business model.”

The students met at 9 a.m. on Oct 18. in International Village with Madeleine Estabrook, vice president of student affairs; Michael Armini, senior vice president for external affairs; Thomas Nedell, senior vice president and treasurer; Philomena Mantella, senior vice president and chief executive officer of the Northeastern University Global Network; and Ralph Martin, senior vice president and general counsel.

“They refuse to critique the fossil fuel industry,” said Zimmer, a junior environmental studies and political science major.

In an email to The News, Northeastern spokesperson Matthew McDonald said the SLT has been meeting with students for three years to discuss the issues of divestment and sustainability.

“Today they continued this dialogue,” McDonald said. “The conversations are ongoing and the group will meet again to discuss their collaborative work to enhance the university’s efforts and standing as a leader in sustainability and climate change study and mitigation.”

Currently, although the university doesn’t directly invest in fossil fuels, a portion of the university’s endowment is invested in commingled funds that include investments in the energy sector.

In an Oct. 13 meeting between DivestNU and university officials including Estabrook, Williams and Zimmer said they got the impression that the administration was committed to never again directly investing in the fossil fuel industry.

At the Tuesday meeting, however, the administration did not promise to refrain from future direct investments in fossil fuels, Williams and Zimmer said.

On Monday, Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim (D-8), who is also a Northeastern alumnus, wrote a letter to President Joseph E. Aoun in support of the divestment movement. Zakim’s district includes Back Bay, Mission Hill and the Fenway.

“Much of the research happening at your university demonstrates leadership in the areas of climate change and sustainability; it is time for the administration to step up and lead on socially responsible investment practices,” Zakim wrote.

For now, members of DivestNU said they will continue their efforts to convince university administration to move toward divestment.

“What the administration brought to the table this morning was insufficient for us to end our escalation,” Williams said.

Photo by Julia Preszler 

Disclaimer: DivestNU member Anna Sorokina, who met with SLT on Tuesday morning, is an arts & entertainment columnist at The News.