~ Co-written by Katie Mimnaugh, UofI Grad Student and Anastasia Schemkes of the Sierra Student Coalition
On Friday night, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC or UofI) became the latest school (of the 300+ campuses working on fossil fuel divestment) to pass a student-wide divestment referendum. With all votes tallied, they had won with 6-to-1 in favor of divestment.
Bottom line: 86% of the voting student body demonstrated their support of coal divestment at UIUC!
In a state ravaged by the coal industry, UIUC Beyond Coal began working on coal divestment in August 2011, following an incredible student-driven effort that secured a 2017 commitment by the administration to stop burning coal at the campus power plant.
Illinois is currently ranked fifth in the country for coal production and headed by a governor with plans to double the state’s coal exports by 2014 – the same Governor that appoints the UIUC Board of Trustees. Even just 20 minutes away from Champaign a proposed coal mine threatens citizens in the town of Homer.
This stark reality only makes the UIUC Beyond Coal campaign that much more impressive.
Early on, Beyond Coal secured the support of the student senate, built a vast coalition on and off campus, and even climate activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and New York Times columnist Andrew Revkin cheered on the students during visits to campus. The campaign is regularly featured in the student newspaper, local news articles and TV news.
Their referendum is the most recent success. To secure a referendum on the student ballot, Beyond Coal had to collect petition signatures from 7% of the student body: 3,038 signatures in total. And right when the students were hundreds of miles away from campus, in the middle of Power Shift, they got the go ahead to start collecting petition signatures –with less than three weeks to deliver all 3,000.
In the span of two weeks, Beyond Coal gathered over 4,000 signatures to get the resolution on the ballot. On Friday Nov 15, the divestment referendum passed 6-1, with 1,730 YES votes.
The students have made their opinion clear. They voted to support removing investments from a dirty and outdated coal industry and investing instead in clean energy and community projects.
The University’s vision “to create a brilliant future… in which the students, faculty and staff thrive and the citizens of Illinois, the nation and the world benefit” clearly calls the University of Illinois to lead now in the face of climate change. U of I must protect the future of the very students it educates and choose to divest from coal this January.