Wash U Students Launch Sit-In to Demand University Cut Ties with Peabody Energy
Students vow to sit-in until the University comes to the negotiating table
On Tuesday afternoon, students from Washington University in St. Louis launched a sit-in under the iconic Brookings Arch in an effort to pressure their administration to cut ties with Peabody Energy. The students intend to continue the sit-in until the administration responds to their concerns and takes action to address them.
The students come from a wide range of academic disciplines, grade levels, and students groups (including The Wilderness Project, Green Action, and The Muslim Students Association, among others). They cite numerous reasons why the University should end its relationship with Peabody, including Peabody’s contribution to global carbon emissions, participation in ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), marginalization of indigenous and rural communities in places including Black Mesa, Arizona and Rocky Branch, Illinois, and interference in democratic processes via their lawsuit against the local Take Back St. Louis ballot initiative.
"It is time for Washington University to cut ties with Peabody, a coal corporation with a proven record of social injustice, including displacing indigenous Navajo and Hopi people on Black Mesa in Arizona" said Ayah Abo-Basha, a student sit-in participant and member of the Muslim Students Association.
Wash U’s relationship with Peabody is relatively new. Peabody CEO Greg Boyce joined the Wash U Board of Trustees in 2009. Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, and Ameren also donated $5,000,000 to start the Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization, a research entity housed in the engineering school under the International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy and Sustainability (I-CARES).
This sit-in is the latest in a long-term effort to shed light on and critique Washington University’s relationship with the coal industry. It comes at the same time as the passage of a Student Union resolution to divest the endowment from fossil fuels with an overwhelming majority vote of 14-2. The resolution was presented by Wash U student group, Green Action, as a part of their fossil fuel divestment campaign, Fossil Free WashU. This set the precedent for a meeting between Chancellor Wrighton and members of Green Action. In the meeting, however, Chancellor Wrighton said he does not think fossil fuel divestment is feasible, despite the fact that several large institutional investors, including the Seattle City Employees’ pension fund, have recently committed to fossil fuel divestment.
"The relationship between Peabody and Wash U is impeding progress on this campus," said Rachel Goldstein, who works on the Fossil Free WashU campaign. "As long as the University holds these close ties with Peabody Energy, our university cannot be truly sustainable."
Across the country, campus activism targeting fossil fuel companies is at an all-time high. There are currently over 300 active fossil fuel divestment campaigns on college campuses. “We hope that this sit-in will inspire more students across the country to pressure their institutions to cut ties with fossil fuel corporations that are endangering communities and contributing to climate change around the world,” said Julia Ho, one of the student participants and a member of the organization Sharing With A Purpose.
On the first night of the sit-in, students held a rally and teach-in about Peabody Energy. They plan to pitch tents this evening and stay in front of Brookings Hall until the University cuts ties with Peabody.
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