UMass protest ends peacefully, hundreds of students rally on campus

UMass students protesting Thursday evening outside the Whitmore Administrative Building

AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – Hundreds of UMass students protested again on Thursday inside the Whitmore Administration Building after 19 students were arrested on Wednesday.

UMass students protesting Thursday evening outside the Whitmore Administrative Building
UMass students protesting Thursday evening outside the Whitmore Administrative Building

UMass students are demanding that the university divest their investments in fossil fuel companies, but what does that mean? Every college gets money through donations. Sometimes it’s used for scholarships. That fund is called an endowment and it gets invested so it can grow.

On Thursday, UMass Police set up a perimeter outside the Whitmore Administrative Building. They were prepared for more student protester arrests. The doors to Whitmore locked at 6:00 p.m. and UMass Spokesman Ed Blaguszewski told 22News that for safety and security reasons, protesters who chose to remain inside the building would be arrested. More than a dozen UMass Police, including their incident command vehicle, were outside Whitmore, and police tape was put around the area.

UMass Police set up a barrier in front of the Whitmore Administrative Building in case of protests
UMass Police set up a barrier in front of the Whitmore Administrative Building in case of protests

Blaguszewski said, “It’s not something that the University of Massachusetts Amherst controls. We are part of the broader university and the process is that the endowment is managed by the foundation board and that decision rests with the foundation.”

Before 6:00 p.m., hundreds of students were lined up in the hallways on the third floor outside of the University Chancellors Office. Many of these students skipped classes. No students were arrested. They all left peacefully and held a rally outside.

UMass said they are willing to bring protester concerns to the Board of Directors but the protesters are not satisfied. They are demanding action.

UMass protesters organized outside the Whitmore Administrative Building
UMass protesters organized outside the Whitmore Administrative Building

Filipe Carvalho, a fossil fuel divestment protester, told 22News some pledge to stay here as long as it takes, even if that means getting arrested when the building closes. “Get more people out here than we have had in the past few days. Showing our power and rallying behind the arrests. We have several people who have pledged to get arrested if that is what it comes down too.”

The university, who recently divested from the coal industry, said they are willing to bring the protester demands to the board; but Kristie Herman, a protester, said that’s not good enough. “It is not an exact commitment, it is a commitment of support and we want a commitment of action and that’s why we are continuing to push for a time bound understanding of when this will happen.”

UMass said the protesters have remained well behaved, but have to be arrested for safety and security reasons when they refuse to leave the building when it closes.

Below is a statement from UMass regarding the protest:

University of Massachusetts President Martin T. Meehan and Victor Woolridge, Chairman of the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees, agree to advocate for the divestment and prohibition of direct investments by the University’s endowment in fossil fuel companies. They further agree to place the subject on the agenda for consideration at the June 15, 2016 meeting of the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees.”

The students’ demands include full fossil-fuel divestment and a series of deadlines.

Woolridge and Meehan have said divesting direct investments in fossil fuel companies represents “a logical next step” to the action UMass took last year when it divested its direct investments in coal companies. Divestment from all fossil fuel companies would clearly establish UMass as a national leader in the area of environmentally responsible endowment-investment policies.

In December 2015, the University of Massachusetts Foundation announced that it would divest from direct investments in coal companies, citing the urgency of climate change and the University’s commitment to addressing it. The decision followed submission of a formal petition by the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign in March 2014 and a deliberative process that began with the creation of the Socially Responsible Investment Advisory Committee and its subsequent recommendation.

UMass has a major impact on the environment in ways that extend well beyond investment policies, including innovative research in wind energy, biofuels and climate change, and as a result of efficiency steps that have seen the University save $75 million in energy-related savings in recent years.

At UMass Amherst, the campus has successfully reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 23 percent over the past 10 years and its Comprehensive Campus Energy Plan aims to reduce greenhouse gases over the next decade. The campus is home to the Northeast Climate Science Center, one of eight federal research facilities nationwide created to provide scientific information, tools and techniques to anticipate, monitor and adapt to climate change. UMass Amherst is recognized as one of the top universities in the country for sustainability including the 2015 STARS Gold Designation. Students learn about sustainability theory and practice through 300 courses, 25 undergraduate majors, 15 graduate programs, co-curricular activities, and undergraduate research experiences focused on sustainability.

All students left the building April 14 at 6 p.m. when it closed for business. No arrests were made.

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