During World Bank president Jim Yong Kim’s speech at Gaston Hall on March 18, GU Fossil Free stormed the stage, presenting a banner that quoted Kim: “Corporate leaders should not wait to act until market signals are right & national investment policies are in place” and “Divest now GU Fossil Free.”
Kim was present on campus to discuss climate change, a matter central to GU Fossil Free’s mission, but the actions taken by the student group last Wednesday demonstrate an unfortunate misappropriation of values and a disrespect. GU Fossil Free must take greater care to exhibit and advocate their cause without alienating students.
From numerous on-campus protests to attempting to forcibly enter a meeting of the university board of directors last month, storming the stage during President Kim’s speech is the latest in a series of headline-grabbing incidents this year.
GU Fossil Free’s passion for the issues of climate change and divestment is palpable, valiant and commendable, but the group must pick their battles more rationally.
There is a line between enthusiastic advocacy and unnecessary disruption of the community. Gaston Hall is a respected space. Performing and speaking there, as well as even attending events there, is a special experience. But as one of the oldest community spaces on campus, Gaston Hall and its credibility must be protected by the university.
It is incidents like these that damage the entire university’s reputation. Even if the demonstration was in solidarity with the issue to which Kim spoke and used Kim’s own words to articulate a stand against climate change, it is disrespectful and counterintuitive, objectively speaking, to create a scene in order to advocate an issue.
The tactics used by GU Fossil Free unnecessarily dramatize the issues at hand, as well as draw attention from those issues that are just as important.
Additionally, rather than causing students to reflect and demand divestment, the strategies employed by GU Fossil Free only engender discussion on the nature of such tactics.
It is a statement in itself that media coverage of last Wednesday was not centered around President Kim’s visit, or even climate change itself, but around a student group’s storming of Gaston Hall’s stage. GU Fossil Free must prioritize fostering genuine dialogue within the student body instead of relying on the shock effect of storming the stage.
Protests and stormings could be exchanged for town halls or open meetings to give interested non-members a voice.
It should be important to GU Fossil Free that in the months leading up to the Committee on Investment and Social Responsibility’s February vote that engendered these protests, hundreds of students signed the petition demanding the Georgetown divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies, and both The Hoya and The Voice published editorials calling for divestment in solidarity with GU Fossil Free.
This is an issue that remains important to the student body; there should be no reason to rely on attention-grabbing tactics to move a cause forward. The focus should instead be placed upon the issue itself and what the student body as a whole can do to convince the university to make the right decision.
Change can be advocated for effectively in myriad ways other than those being currently utilized by this student group.
We urge GU Fossil Free to change their methods of advocacy and better create a space for real dialogue or risk losing the support they have within the Georgetown community.