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Earlier this month, Climate Action Movement UM held a demonstration to demand the school divest from fossil fuels. Over the weekend the student body presidents at all the Big Ten universities called on their institutions to divest. (Photo: @ClimateActionUM/Twitter)

'This Is History': Big Ten University Students Unanimously Pass Resolution Calling On Schools to Divest From Fossil Fuels

The Association of Big Ten Students, which passed the resolution, represents more than 500,000 students and 5.7 million living alumni.

Julia Conley

Student body presidents of the Big Ten universities are calling on their schools to divest from the fossil fuel industry after a resolution was passed unanimously at the Association of Big Ten Students winter meeting.

The student governments of University of Michigan, Ohio State University, Northwestern University, and 11 other schools in the Big Ten collegiate conference voted on Sunday to call on their schools to freeze all future planned investments in fossil fuels and develop a timeline for divestment from the industry as quickly as possible, beginning this year.

"This is history," wrote Amytess Girgis on Twitter in a post containing the association's statement. Girgis is a student at the University of Michigan, whose student government sponsored the resolution.

The resolution marks the first time students of a collegiate conference have joined together unanimously to call on their institutions to divest from fossil fuels.

"The vote signals the emerging consensus that responsible institutions must divest from fossil fuels as soon as possible," said the association in a statement.

"This is a big deal. Our young leaders know what's at stake. And they know what our major institutions need to be doing to defend us."
—Abdul El-Sayed, former Michigan gubernatorial candidate
The Big Ten schools' call comes four months after the University of California system announced it was divesting from fossil fuel companies. Hundreds of Harvard and Yale students stormed a football field in November during the two schools' annual game to demand divestment.

On Wednesday, students at the Oxford University in England held a sit-in demanding the school divest its £8.1 million ($10 million) in known fossil fuel investments as well as any undisclosed investments.

"Momentum is picking up, and this should be a warning to the university and colleges that we're serious, committed, and willing to do what it takes to make change happen," said Pascale Gourdeau, co-chair of the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign, in a statement.

Author and co-founder Bill McKibben praised the Big Ten students Wednesday, noting that many of them attend schools in what some consider to be "the Heartland"—where beltway pundits commonly claim Americans are less likely to support bold climate action than those on the coasts.

Ecologist Sandra Steingraber and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed also voiced their support for the ABTS.

Girgis called on students at the Big Ten universities to keep up the pressure on their administrators following the vote.

"Administrations of the Big Ten universities will do everything to pretend the voices of 500,000 students have no bearing on their responsibility to divest from fossil fuels and work for climate justice," tweeted Girgis. "They'll say this doesn't matter. The more we share [the resolution], the more we say otherwise."

Given the unanimity of the resolution, Michigan student Solomon Medintz told, "if none of the universities representing those students has a formal freeze, there is something wrong."

"We need to make sure our institutions are more reflecting of our values," Medintz added.

In addition to more than 500,000 current students, the ABTS represents 5.7 million living alumni, many of whom attended the schools when other crucial divestment decisions were made by administrators.

"The University of Michigan has precedent in this regard—past administrations divested from apartheid South Africa and the tobacco industry after robust student-led activism," said Logan Vear, a member of Climate Action Movement U-M, in a statement. "Divesting the $1 billion U-M has invested in the fossil fuel industry requires the same moral urgency."

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