Approximately 30 Georgetown University Fossil Free members and supporters gathered to demand socially responsible investments and more transparency from the board of directors’ Socially Responsible Investments Committee — including restricting investments in gun manufacturing and fossil fuel companies — at a rally hosted by GUFF in Red Square on Wednesday.
The rally, which was titled “Follow the Money” and previewed by an event page and introductory video on Facebook, was co-sponsored by 10 student organizations, including Georgetown Against Gun Violence, Georgetown University Amnesty International, H*yas for Choice, Georgetown Israel Alliance, Georgetown Refugee Action, Georgetown Secular Student Alliance, Georgetown Solidarity Committee and Georgetown Students for Justice in Palestine.
Members of GUFF, accompanied by a group of protestors, met after the protest with Chief of Staff of the Office of the President Joe Ferrara and Vice President for Public Affairs Erik Smulson to deliver a list of written demands.
The protestors’ requests primarily included the creation and development of a university-wide socially responsible investment policy, which would include a public list of companies and industries the university should refrain from investing in based on its core Jesuit values.
After action by GUFF, the university voted to cease direct investment in coal companies in June 2015, and currently does not provide a public list of energy companies in its endowment.
Additionally, GUFF requested that the university reconstruct the Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility and institute an additional institute an additional board of directors working group to uphold the policy and include students in the process.
Protestors are also seeking the development by the university of an investment transparency website to publicly disclose any connections between Georgetown’s investments and personal connections within the board of directors or other major donors.
According to GUFF member Caroline James (COL ’16), the purpose of the rally was to raise awareness for the lack of clear and public university policy on investment.
“We’ve had a lot of frustration with the university bureaucracy and basically finding that there isn’t a university-wide policy about what we will and will not invest in,” James said. “So we decided to have a ‘follow-the-money’ rally to show that other groups have a vested interest in seeing the university have this policy.”
According to a statement issued by Ferrara following the rally, the board of directors will review the list of demands.
“We will share the demands with the board of directors committee that is reviewing socially responsible investing,” Ferrara wrote in a statement to The Hoya.
GUFF member Grady Willard (SFS ’18), who attended the meeting, said the group’s conversation with Ferrara was a step in the right direction, but hopes the administration will continue to be receptive to students’ demands in order for progress to be made.
“I thought it was a very effective meeting. We elaborated on our demands and engaged in a discussion of topics related to student engagement, socially responsible investment, board transparency, and CISR reform,” Willard said. “We feel like both of them were very receptive to our overall argument, and look forward to engaging more with them and the board of directors in the future.”
Aaron Bennett (COL ’19), who attended the rally, said the protestors’ messages and demands for change were moving.
“I think it’s great that Georgetown students are deciding to speak out against some of the lack of transparency and socially irresponsible funding on behalf of Georgetown University,” Bennett said.
GUFF member Brendan Stelmach (SFS ’19) said the demands are essential to better align the university’s policies with Jesuit values, and hopes the university will more carefully consider the ways it utilizes its endowment in the future.
“One of the most meaningful ways that, as students, we can show our support for protection against climate change is by campaigning to change how we invest our endowment,” Stelmach said. “It’s a direct representation of us as students and I think that by putting some of these changes in place we can move towards being more representative of what Georgetown is truly about.”