This is part one of the three year divest PSU journey, look out for the second part soon.
Portland State University
The City of Portland is known internationally for its consciousness on the environment and it’s stewardship. The city is home to a number of universities, one of which works closely with the city to advance climate action goals, Portland State University (PSU).
PSU is located in downtown Portland, and is home to roughly 25,000 students, ranging from recent high school graduates to parents going for a second degree. In 2013, I started to attend PSU in hopes of finding a career in the environmental field.
Until that point, my experience with environmental field was limited to a community college environmental club, and an internship at the California Sustainability Student Coalition (CSSC). I recall this picture being taken at the CSSC conference in the UC Berkeley campus, a few months before heading north to Portland.
Upon moving to Portland, I was exposed to a range of organizations and opportunities to learn more about the environmental field. At PSU, my first weeks living on campus brought the opportunity to be part of a student group, Eco-reps. The student group makes behavioral changes to the life-styles of campus residents to promote a more sustainable, material conscious, energy efficient campus.
Student Sustainability Leadership Council
PSU’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions (ISS) – the hub for sustainability at PSU – has three main bodies, one of which was the Students Leadership Center (now Student Sustainability Center). Led by Heather Spalding, SLC was and still is home to many student led activities taking place around sustainability at PSU such as Eco-reps.
Another group that convened that was part of SLC, the Student Sustainability Leadership Council (SSLC), was made up of sustainability multidisciplinary leaders from across the PSU campus. SSLC cohorts would participate in personal development activities, as well as leading effort on an annual project. Previous SSLC cohorts created the Flea market, a quarterly event where local artist could sell their reused items.
My engagement with the Eco-reps ultimately yielded an opportunity to be part of SSLC, as they were recruiting members for the 2013-14 cohort. I knew nothing more really, I was just thrilled to be more engaged in the environmental field.
The leadership models that SSLC introduced to me through their different personal development activities, and opportunities to form collaborative models. They provided the space to really finally be heard, and I would specifically give credit to the fact that most of the leaders gathering in the space were women.
Weeks went by, and I got a chance to get to know the rest of the members. Once winter term had arrived, SSLC would be looking to pick their annual project. Ideas were being pitched for the next project, from reusable to-go box containers to engaging students in more environmental education. The idea of creating a campaign for divestment of fossil fuels was originally introduced by Linda Hoppes, and I was very happy she did, because I personally wanted to get more involved with divestment. Many students at CSSC had already started campaigns on their campuses.
Once we had casted our votes, the SSLC cohort was to start a campaign, our goal, get the PSU Foundation to divest their $55mil endowment from fossil fuels. We quickly came to realize that we had to do research, and planning, and really understand what divestment means.
Divestment is a strategy used by students in the U.S. during the South African Apartheid, they pressured their foundations to sell their investments on South African products, which ultimately created enough pressure for the regime to fall. Once the regime had collapsed, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, after which he went to visit students at UC Berkeley to give them thank you for their divestment efforts.
I personally started doing all I could to prepare, divestment gave me the power to have an impact even though I was just a student. I got word that environmental active artist Moon Hooch would be coming to do a show to PSU, so I attended their music show. After the show I approached them to snap a shot with them as a symbol of their support (below).
My previous connections at CSSC in California invited me to a national conference on fossil fuel divestment that was to take place in San Francisco. I thought that the event would be a good opportunity to have my cohort members attend, in the hopes that we could learn what other university students were doing, and learn successes as well as failures. Cindy Joy and Linda Hoppes, my SSLC cohort team-mates, joined me to attend a national student gathering.
The campaign would soon begin.