By Jesse Wood
On Monday, Divest Appalachian, a student organization, held a march and rally on Appalachian State University to request that the institution divest its fossil fuels investments in its Board of Trustees’ Endowment and Appalachian State University Foundation portfolios.
About 50 people, primarily students, gathered on Sanford Mall and marched throughout the campus before ending the peaceful protest inside the B.B. Dougherty Administration Building, where Divest Appalachian members delivered its request in a letter to administrators.
Today’s rally on campus was among many actions taking place during the first 100 hours of Donald Trump’s presidency across the country and world. While Smythe mentioned Trump’s climate denying administration, the focus of the protest was to spur App State’s divestment in its fossil fuels shares.
“We have to look past feel-good slogans that our university chooses to plaster all over campus. Over the break, [App State] was awarded the No. 1 school in the nation for sustainability,” Smythe said. “But I think we can all agree this prestigious ranking doesn’t do enough. We are touting one ideology, while profiting off the extracted industries we seek to rid ourselves of on campus.”
As Smythe’s speech on Sanford Mall ended, Harvard Ayers, retired App State professor and founder of a number of environmental advocacy groups, chimed in to say that App State owns New River Light & Power and is signing contracts for fossil fuels into the 2030s.
“I don’t think that is a good idea,” Ayers said.
Inside the B.B. Dougherty Administration, ASU Associate Professor of Elementary Education, Dr. J. Allen Bryant said that the group is requesting not only a divestment of fossil fuels shares but a change of heart.
“Jesus taught wherever your treasure is there your heart will be also. If our treasure is with the men and women poisoning Flint, Mich., that is where your heart will be. If our treasure is with the men and women poisoning Standing Rock … that is where our heart will be,” Bryant said.
Bryant referenced the many green and sustainable accolades App State has been awarded over the years. But he said that App State is “sustainable and recycles in the bright light of day, but in the dark of night investing in death” with its fossil fuels shares.
“What we are asking App State to do now is to change its heart because where your treasure is there your heart will be,” Bryant said. “We are asking to not just divest but to change the heart of the institution, to live what we proclaim when we say we are going to be sustainable. We can’t truly live that if we are also investing in the men and women and corporations poisoning our children. We can’t do that. We can’t be both.”
Reached for comment about the Divest Appalachian rally today, the university released a statement from Dr. Lee F. Ball Jr., director of sustainability at App State:
“Appalachian State University is committed to responsible investment. We are in the process of learning more about sustainability-related investing, as evidenced by several initiatives that are currently underway. Today, our students referenced our institution’s strategic plan and commitment to sustainability. As part of this commitment, we embed sustainability into our curriculum. Our students, faculty and staff are currently engaging in research about how to invest funds and resources in ways that generate positive social and environmental impacts while also producing a financial gain for the institution and its scholarship endowments. This process is complex, and is a great teaching, learning and research opportunity for our faculty and students. We welcome further involvement from members of the Appalachian Community.”
See video of the protests at Divest Appalachian’s Facebook page here.