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Students deliver letter calling for fossil fuel divestment, protest in front of LeBlanc’s home

Ari Golub | Staff Photographer
Sunrise GW members walk from Kogan Plaza to University President Thomas LeBlanc’s home to demand that officials divest from fossil fuels.

About 70 students marched with Sunrise GW Wednesday to deliver a letter to officials asking for the University to divest its holdings in the fossil fuel industry.

Students marched from Kogan Plaza to University President Thomas LeBlanc’s home and 1918 F St. – an administrative building – with a letter that urges officials to divest GW’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry and reconsider its relationship with the Regulatory Studies Center, a research hub that accepts donations from the fossil fuel industry. The protests come after LeBlanc disclosed Sunday that GW invests 3 percent of its endowment into the fossil fuel industry.

Sunrise leaders said more than 1,600 people and more than 40 student organizations have signed onto the letter as of Wednesday.

[gwh_image id=”1110336″ credit=”Arielle Bader | Senior Photo Editor” size=”embedded-img” align=”none”]Protesters gather outside an administrative office on F Street.[/gwh_image]

“Our main goal is to show LeBlanc that, while he may feel like student voices don’t have a role in the decisions made by the administration, we feel that they very much should,” sophomore Izy Carney, a member of Sunrise’s advocacy team, said.

About 35 Sunrise members protested in the Marvin Center Tuesday during an event commemorating the RSC’s 10th anniversary and delivered a speech criticizing the center for accepting donations from fossil fuel corporations, like ExxonMobil.

LeBlanc came under fire Sunday for comparing student support for fossil fuel divestment to hypothetical support for shooting “all the black people here.” He apologized for the remark, made in a video posted to Overheard at GW Saturday.

Freshman Victoria Freire, a member of Sunrise GW’s political advocacy team, said climate change is an “intersectional” issue that affects everyone, which helped them garner support for the letter.

“We’ve had so many people join because we’re such a multi-faceted, issue-based group,” Freire said.

Student Association Sen. Howard Brookins, U-at-Large, said he participated in the protest to urge the University to do its part in mitigating climate change.

“So many different disaster scenarios can happen if we don’t act now,” Brookins said. “This is my opportunity to say something, to act, and the University that I go to should not invest in different fossil fuel industries that hurt our entire ecology system.”

Freshman Prerna Agarwal said she attended the march to compel administrators to take “preventive action” against climate change in the form of fossil fuel divestment.

“It’s really important that, as a student at GW, I know that my tuition dollars aren’t going toward funding fossil fuel investments, especially because higher education is something I pay a lot for, and I want to reflect my own values,” Agarwal said.

[gwh_image id=”1110354″ credit=”Ari Golub | Staff Photographer” align=”none” size=”embedded-img”]Members of Sunrise GW sit on the steps of 1918 F St., an administrative building, in a protest Wednesday.[/gwh_image]

Members of Sunrise – formerly known as Fossil Free GW – have lobbied in favor of divestment since 2013, staging several protests during Board of Trustees meetings over the past couple of years.

Jan Nowak, the SA’s vice president for sustainability, said divesting from fossil fuels would make “financial sense,” citing how BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, divested its holdings in the thermal coal industry because divestment was economically and environmentally beneficial to the company.

[gwh_image id=”1110338″ credit=”Arielle Bader | Senior Photo Editor” align=”none” size=”embedded-img”]Students march down 21st Street toward University President Thomas LeBlanc’s home. [/gwh_image]

“We don’t have to be choosing between our values and financials,” Nowak said. “You can have an endowment that is still really and equally as profitable and not invest in fossil fuels.”

More than 20 SA senators endorsed the GW Sunrise letter in a resolution passed last week. SA Sen. Brandon Hill, CCAS-U and resolution sponsor, said the legislation was a “necessary discussion” the senate needed to have to represent ongoing student advocacy.

“Every few years we just need to refresh on how the student body feels on issues of divestment,” Hill said. “And the overwhelming amount of senators who supported the act shows that our constituents support it, and also that we as a student body, as the senate, and as people support the divestment as well.”

Tiffany Garcia contributed reporting.

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