Sunrise NYU revives university divestment campaign

The campaign urges the university to divest from fossil fuels and private prisons. Organizers held the first rally of the semester on Oct. 15.

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Alexandra Chan

Sunrise NYU held a rally in Washington Square Park on Oct. 15. The climate justice group relaunched its initiative pushing NYU to divest from fossil fuels and private prisons. (Staff Photo by Alexandra Chan)

By Rachel Fadem, Deputy News Editor

Sunrise Movement NYU, the local chapter of a nationwide student-led climate justice group, is launching a renewed Divest NYU campaign that aims to pressure the NYU administration into ending its investments in fossil fuels and private prisons. The campaign’s first Rally for Divestment was held Oct. 15.

Campaigners marched from Weinstein Hall to Gould Plaza through Washington Square Park. At stops in between, members of Sunrise NYU and NYU’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America gave speeches to the audience and passersby.

Sunrise NYU activists Dylan Wahbe and Paige Anderson address the crowd in front of Kaufman Management Center. (Staff Photo by Alexandra Chan)

Steinhardt junior Dylan Wahbe, the communications lead for the Divest campaign, spoke about previous divestment campaigns at NYU and added that this year’s effort would be markedly different. Past campaigns had focused solely on divestment from fossil fuels, but Sunrise NYU’s current campaign also demands that the university divest from private prisons, further democratize university administration, and make NYU’s endowment more transparent and sustainable.

The demands of the Divest campaign stem from a series of questions Wahbe voiced in his speech about the university’s financial practices.

“How green can a school be when they have hundreds of millions of dollars invested in fossil fuels?” Wahbe said. “How can a school be a champion of social justice if they still support private prisons?”

CAS junior Karishma Chari joins other student activists in demanding NYU’s divestment from fossil fuels. (Staff Photo by Alexandra Chan)

In her speech, CAS junior Karishma Chari, NYU YDSA’s campaign coordinator, said that NYU is failing its students by choosing to invest in fossil fuel companies and private prisons. 

“The university would not be able to function if not for the endless labor and revenue from its students and workers,” Chari said. “Frankly, it’s time to show Andy and his little board of trustees that we have realized our strength as students.”

Gallatin sophomore Brianna Bellamy is one of the founders of the current Divest movement. (Staff Photo by Alexandra Chan)

Gallatin sophomore Brianna Bellamy, one of the founders of the current Divest campaign, emphasized the urgency of climate action, mentioning unusually heavy snowfall in Madrid, intense snowstorms in Texas, heat waves throughout the western United States and record amounts of flooding on the East Coast this year.

“This is not normal,” Bellamy said in their speech. “This is not just a heatwave or random blizzard. This is the earth changing. It has already changed. We can’t stand by and wait for them to decide when it is most convenient to change.”

LS sophomore Demetra Nikolopoulos said she chose to attend the rally because she believes that students have the power to pressure the university.

“It’s definitely possible for NYU to do it,” Nikolopoulos said. “They just need to know that the student population cares. And they need to care themselves, and invest not only in our future as students and individuals, but in their future as a university. If the world explodes, they’re not gonna be here either.”

CAS senior Ian Miller, who also attended the rally, said that although he only just learned about the Divest campaign, he supports it because he cares about the future of the university.

“I just want a better life for students,” Miller said. “I’m a senior. Next year, I’m gone. I want to leave the school better than when I came into it.”

Sunrise NYU activists gather at Gould Plaza for their protest. (Staff Photo by Alexandra Chan)

Members of Sunrise NYU believe that the call for a more democratic campus is central to improving the university. Wahbe said that democratic decision-making could be achieved by implementing systems and protocols for structured student input on all university decisions, including those which concern finances.

The first petition for divestment dates back to 2013, and annual petitions were created in the years following until 2019. Although a resolution asking NYU to divest from certain industries was passed by the student government in 2015, it did not prompt the university to take action.

The campaign organizers hope to learn from past failed Divest campaigns and increase collaboration between its own members as well as with other NYU student organizations. 

“We’re really pushing for more student engagement, awareness and involvement,” Wahbe told WSN. “Every single student has a voice and they should be heard — which is not currently happening.”

Sunrise NYU members encouraged students who want to get involved in the Divest campaign to sign the petition and attend future marches and direct-action events.

A version of this story appeared in the October 18, 2021, e-print edition. Contact Rachel Fadem at [email protected]