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Thirty-four University of Massachusetts- Amherst students were arrested in April for occupying a campus building during a nonviolent divestment protest. (Photo: Divest UMass)

Thirty-four University of Massachusetts- Amherst students were arrested in April for occupying a campus building during a nonviolent divestment protest. (Photo: Divest UMass)

Student Activism Pushes UMass to Become First Major Public University to Divest

University president recognizes power of students to make societal change

Lauren McCauley

University of Massachusetts students—who just over one month ago were arrested for demanding that their school divest from fossil fuels—were validated on Wednesday after it was announced that the school would become the first major public university to pull its direct holdings from polluting industries.

The decision was made by a unanimous vote of the Board of Directors of the UMass Foundation, which oversees the endowment, valued at $700 million at the end of the last fiscal year. 

"I think it's the best news I've heard in an age!" Bill McKibben, who co-founded and helped launch the campaign divestment movement, declared in an email to the Daily Hampshire Gazette. "It's the result of great organizing by students and faculty across the Bay State—and coming as it does in the hottest year ever recorded it's a great morale boost to the climate movement."

He added that it's a "key reminder to financial institutions about the direction the world is headed."

Thirty-four UMass Amherst students were arrested last month after holding a multi-day sit-in during a national wave of campus protests against fossil fuel investment.

Mica Reel, spokeswoman for campaign organizer Divest UMass, told the Gazette that the group was "so excited" about the school's swift turnaround.

"This is really amazing to see," Reel said. "This is a wonderful thing to share with the people that were at the sit-ins and the protest ...It shows the power of students."

Divest UMass had specifically pushed for full divestment, but Reel said they would "celebrate" the Board's decision to only pull those holdings that are directly funding the fossil fuel industry—which amounts to roughly $5 million or less than one percent of the total endowment. 

"It doesn’t end here," Reel said. 

"Important societal change often begins on college campuses and it often begins with students," said UMass president Marty Meehan, who added that he's "proud" of the students "for putting UMass at the forefront of a vital movement."

Meehan said that as part of the university system's pivot towards renewable power, he would be tapping the President’s Science and Technology Initiative Fund—which last year provided more than $900,000 in grants to faculty researchers—to fund sustainable technology projects. Further, Meehan said UMass would boost its "academic and financial involvement in offshore wind energy."

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