On Friday, Feb. 3, at approximately 9 a.m., more than 40 student activists occupied Tweedie Hall during the Board of Regents (BoR) meeting in a demonstration protesting the Board’s inaction regarding fossil fuel divestment despite four years of pressure from student activists.
The action was organized by Divest MTA, a student-run climate justice group that is part of an international movement demanding that public institutions sever all financial ties to the fossil fuel industry. Since their inception four years ago, they have demanded that Mount Allison divest from fossil fuels, which would mean removing the portion of its endowment fund that is invested in this industry.
A die-in is a form of protest in which activists lie on the floor, feigning death, to represent the bodies of people killed by the industry in question. For nearly an hour, the student activists lay on the floor of Tweedie Hall, halting the Board meeting and demanding that regents comply with Divest MTA’s demands.
In the tense 40 minutes leading up to the die-in, students were organized into groups in the Mawita’mkw, where they rehearsed the chants used during the action. Some students were also handed signs reading “No Indigenization without divestment” and “Invest in our future, divest from fossil fuels.”
Lauren Crumley, a third-year student and protester, said she was nervous in the buildup to the action, but was hopeful of its results. “I was pretty hopeful that we would have a significant influence over Robert Campbell and the BoR, seeing as there were so many of us,” she said.
The following is a timeline of Friday morning’s action:
8:50 a.m. Protesters dressed in black and wearing the emblematic Divest orange square entered the BoR meeting, holding banners and singing, joined by over 10 Mt. A professors. Within two minutes, the floor of Tweedie Hall was covered in students. Almost all board members stood up upon students’ entrance.
8:52 a.m. Divest MTA organizer and third-year student Tina Oh began her address to the BoR. “For four years Divest MTA has organized panels, for four years we have asked for meetings and for four years we have stood on committees,” Oh said. “While students spend every day learning of the dangers of climate change, the University invests in an industry that kills millions of people and destroys our planet.”
8:54 a.m. Naomi Goldberg, a Divest MTA organizer and third-year student, read out Divest MTA’s demands. They demand that the University: cut all financial ties with the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies within the next five years; create permanent policy and procedure that renders investment practices collegial and transparent; and extend the term for the position of Indigenous Affairs Coordinator indefinitely, past the Year of Indigenous Knowing.
Oh and Goldberg then announced Divest MTA’s intention to occupy the space until University President Robert Campbell and Ron Outerbridge, chair of the Board, agreed to sign their list of demands.
8:56 a.m. Goldberg and Oh began brief negotiations with Campbell and several board representatives. Student protesters chanted throughout this process.
9:07 a.m. Outerbridge addressed the room: “I just want to thank you. Obviously, your message has been heard. Obviously, we have a meeting planned to discuss a lot of other things. We cannot sign this letter right now without having some form of discussion to understand the implications. We cannot guarantee we’ll sign the letter going forward. We’re going to end our meeting today, adjourning it, and we’re going to have to reconvene at another date so that we can discuss the matter,” he said.
Oh responded that Divest MTA had been advocating for fossil fuel divestment for four years and that there were no new implications to be understood. “What we would like to let you know is that this discussion did not start today; this discussion started four years ago,” she said. “We are demonstrating today against the inaction and the violent silence that this board has demonstrated to us.”
“Understood,” Outerbridge said. The address was followed by the exit of a majority of the board members.
9:18 a.m. With almost all board members absent from Tweedie Hall, Oh asked for 10 minutes of silence from protesters in honour of all those who have lost their lives due to the fossil fuel industry.
9:32 a.m. Protesters began exiting Tweedie Hall while singing, returning to Mawita’mkw to hold a debriefing. The group gathered in a circle for concluding remarks from Oh. Protesters slowly left amidst excited chants of “I believe that we will win!”
According to third-year student Caeleigh Marshall, the protest was successful. “It was a positive outcome in that it was predicted [by Divest MTA] and [board members] were forced to leave the space that we were occupying,” she said. Marshall added that the adjournment of the meeting is further evidence of the Board’s inaction regarding divestment.
In an email to Divest MTA organizers, Outerbridge wrote that once the Board had reconvened by conference call, they unanimously agreed that Campbell and Outerbridge would not sign the list of demands presented by Divest MTA.
Will Balser writes for The Argosy, the student newspaper at Mount Allison University. This article was first published in The Argosy.