Students are rising at NYU

NYU Divest is occupying the elevator to the administrative offices to demand that the NYU Board of Trustees vote on divestment. We’ve been here since 8am on Monday the 18th, and do not intend to leave until action has been taken.

Our message is simple: #RiseWithUs

By divesting, NYU would join leading universities such as Stanford and Yale in taking a stand against climate change. Students around the country are rising up at Columbia University, University of Massachusetts, and beyond.

One year ago, NYU’s University Senate adopted a resolution calling on the Board of Trustees to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry. Since then, the Board has taken minimal action to consider this resolution. While the Board stalls, climate change continues unabated. We are compelled to take action and stand for those who are already suffering from the effects of climate change.

Here’s what went down on Monday.

At 8am, NYU Divest occupied the executive elevator in Bobst Library (this is the “express” elevator that only goes up to the executive offices on the top floor).

We asked the administration and the larger NYU community to #RiseWithUs to symbolize both the devastating impacts of sea level rise and the students rising up in action.

We did not prevent others from entering the elevator or prevent it from functioning. We resolved to remain in Bobst until we had a commitment from NYU to respond to this issue with the urgency it deserves.

Our demands:
- The Board of Trustees will vote on fossil fuel divestment at its next meeting.
- NYU Divest will present to the full Board before this vote, as promised by former President John Sexton.
- Members of NYU Divest will be allowed to observe the Board’s discussion and vote, for the sake of transparency.
- Materials provided by NYU Divest will be sent to all Board members in advance of this vote.

Three hours into the sit-in, the administration finally responded.

They offered to send our materials to the board, but refused all other requests. After much negotiation with Martin Dorph, CFO, and John Beckman, VP of Public Affairs, we made it clear that we would not be leaving until meaningful commitments were made.

We received numerous visits from supportive faculty…

… and some pretty high-profile endorsements!

We made a little noise...

… and held a teach-in on fossil fuel divestment for our new supporters. #learnwithus

Towards the end of the day, the administration offered us a proposal that we felt was inadequate and we stood strong in our demand, even with the threat of disciplinary action.

An Open Letter to the NYU Administration:
We appreciate your prompt response to our original demands. As we continue with our occupation, we have hopes of reopening our dialogue and reaching an appropriate agreement with the NYU administration.
We would like to give a detailed explanation for declining your offer to present to the InvestmentCommittee of the NYU Board of Trustees. We believe that the issue of divestment cannot be adequately examined from the financial perspective alone. While the financial case for divestment is a strong one, we believe that the moral case is equally, if not more, vital in addressing the issue. Our values as a campaign are rooted in the principle that we are giving a voice to the voiceless whose lives are being disrupted by the consequences of climate change. We stand in solidarity with Syrian refugees who are being displaced. We stand with victims of Hurricane Sandy. We stand with Pacific Islanders who will lose their homes. We stand with people in South Sudan who are losing their food supply. Such a multifaceted and global issue demands the attention and consideration of the full Board of Trustees and their diverse perspectives. As bureaucratic delays continue, the planet continues to warm and sea levels continue to rise.
NYU Divest has been instrumental in representing the voice of this university’s students, faculty, alumni, and staff, who are ready for the university to act on climate change. Therefore, we must have a seat at the table to ensure that the full Board of Trustees understands every angle of this issue. This issue goes beyond the recommendation of the Investment Committee.
Though it is uncommon for external voices to participate in Board meetings, the urgency and severity of climate change demands bold action on the part of the university. Our request to send 3–5 delegates to briefly and professionally present at a meeting before the full Board is a reasonable one, especially considering that it was previously promised to us. This promise was made with full knowledge of typical Board of Trustees operations.
We are prepared to end our occupation if our demand to present to the full Board of Trustees and our request for the next meeting dates are met. We expect a written confirmation of this, alongside the previous commitments made by the administration today regarding sending materials and making a good faith effort to address divestment at the next meeting. We expect transparent communication throughout these proceedings as the Board considers this issue.
We appreciate the steps the university has taken to address this issue so far, and we hope that the administration continues dialogue with us. Until that time, we will remain in the elevator.
Thank you for your thoughtful consideration,
The Members of NYU Divest

In response, the administration decided to close off negotiations. They repeatedly threatened disciplinary action for those who chose to stay past closing time (1am). We were disappointed by this choice to shut down dialogue.

We believe that our cause is right, and that nonviolent action is appropriate in the face of injustice. We made the hard decision to stay.

At midnight, we prepared to stay the night by training participants in nonviolent direct action!

We ended strong, with 18 students risking disciplinary action. Their sacrifice is huge, and we are unsure what kind of action the administration will take.

Day Two.

Our endorsement list grew bigger and bigger… and we trained more and more people in nonviolent action.

We had a movement at our backs.

After the admin ignored our correspondences for hours, we started amping up the pressure. John Beckman even got a few impassioned messages from one of our moms… ;)

The pressure of our calls, following them around, and our growing (fully trained) supporters was enough to bring the admin back to negotiations.

We chose to accept their offer:

  • Representatives of NYU Divest will make a presentation to the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees, which has been charged by the full Board to review and advise on the issue of fossil fuel divestment. The presentation need not be confined to financial or investment related matters. The meeting would be scheduled as soon as possible.
  • The full Board is expected to vote on the matter in June. The timeline is not guaranteed, but is the Board’s goal and expectation.
  • Commitment of written explanation of the Board’s final decision.

Importantly, the proposal was posed as an ultimatum, threatening immediate suspension of the 18 students who stayed overnight and anyone else who remained after 5:00 pm.

We were shocked by the extremity of their response, and angry that they would go to such lengths to repress peaceful protestors.

We had already pressured them into a set of very important demands, and felt that the risk of suspension was too high. We chose to walk away with a victory and a massive step forward towards divestment!

Singing and chanting, we left Bobst with power in our hearts and promise for a better future.

There is still a long way to go until we get divestment.

On Friday, we are meeting with the new President Andrew Hamilton. We hope he will choose to #leadwithus. We’ll need you there to send him a message that the NYU community wants him to stand on the right side.

We’ll need you when we present to the Investment Committee and when the Board finally votes in June! We’re in it for the long hall and we hope you’ll join us.

Stay in touch. Fill out your info here.

Continue to follow us at facebook.com/nyudivest & @nyudivest.

Feeling inspired to join the organizing team? We meet every Sunday at 6pm in GCASL 361.


Final wrap statement from the NYU Divest team:

We won something huge today.

Yesterday, we began an occupation in Bobst Library at 8am. After 33 hours, we walk out with a huge step towards NYU’s divestment from the fossil fuel industry.

The Board of Trustees committed to a goal of bringing divestment to a vote at their next meeting in June! Students will be allowed to personally present to the Investment Committee of the Board. It is unprecedented for the Board to meet with students in this way.

For a year, they had stalled and delayed. With the power and persuasion of students rising up, they had no choice but to act with the urgency that this crisis deserves.

But we won more than demands. Dozens of students sat-in together and made their collective voices heard. It’s not easy to maintain the kind of love and passion we saw from our fellow students in the face of challenge and opposition. This generation is not apathetic. We are literally fighting for our futures. A future that is just, equitable, and safe from climate devastation.

This fight is far from over. The university administrators made it clear that they do not stand on the side of the students. They unjustifiably threatened to impose immediate suspension on 18 peaceful protesters. We are hugely disappointed with this excessive reaction. They were willing to kick students out of housing, prevent them from graduating, and fail their grades. This to their own students, members of this community that they steward.

We are fighting for this community, and we know the community stands behind us. Hundreds of professors and dozens of groups publicly support our call for an end to profiteering off climate change.

This occupation has given us huge momentum towards the critical next phase of this campaign. On Friday, we meet for the first time with our new President Hamilton. We hope that he will choose the side of the community and will #leadwithus.

Thank you to our supporters. Thank you to our allies. Thank you to the brave protestors, many of whom were taking action of this kind for the very first time.

We will keep rising. #RiseWithUs


Addendum: List of Endorsements

Senator Bernie Sanders

NYU Student Labor Action Movement

Roosevelt Institute at NYU

Advocate Coalition Against Trafficking

Arts in the Community

Liberal Studies Theater Club

Alternative Endowment Coalition

Amnesty International at NYU

Oxfam at NYU

Union for Graduate Employees at NYU

Earthmatters at NYU

Columbia University Divest for Climate Justice

Divest Now at Cornell University

Yale University Divest for Climate Justice