Student protesters arrested after weeks-long divestment sit-in

  • Students protesting for divestment at the University of Mary Washington were arrested last month after staging a weeks-long sit-in in the school's administration building.
  • The sit-in lasted for three weeks before the university called the police.
  • Two students were arrested and later released on a $1,500 bond.

After a three week sit-in, pro-divestment student protesters at the University of Mary Washington were arrested last month for refusing to vacate a university building they had been occupying.

Students conducted the sit-in as a protest to demand the school divest from fossil fuels.

One student even reported that a teacher told a protester in an email, “Don’t come to class! Sit in, divest!”   

On April 15th, weeks into the sit-in, university officials sent a letter to the protestors informing them they needed to vacate the space they had been occupying for safety purposes pursuant to a clause in the school’s policy. Officials gave them until 6:30 PM, after which they noted the protesters would be considered trespassing on university property and subject to police action.

State police entered the building and gave the protesters an opportunity to leave before arresting them for trespassing. Only three members of Divest UMW remained in the space and all three were arrested, taken to a regional jail, and processed for trespassing. Two of the arrested protesters were students while one was a community member. They were released on a $1,500 bond.

The sit-in, which began on March 26, lasted for hundreds of hours and showed no signs of stopping until the arrests. After UMW’s Board of Visitor’s rejected a proposal to form an exploratory committee that would evaluate the feasibility of divestment, a handful of students from Divest UMW spent the three weeks sleeping on the floor of the university’s administration building.

According to the group, 150 people joined the sit-in, “including students, faculty, politicians, religious leaders, and children[.]”

Divest UMW’s Facebook declares that the group wants “the University of Mary Washington to withdraw its endowment from any companies that make a profit for themselves or their stockholders by exploiting fossil fuels that adversely impact individuals all over Virginia and all over the world.”

When asked how much money UMW has invested in fossil fuels and what that money is used for, a representative from the university told Campus Reform that, “The University’s endowment is invested in a professionally managed portfolio of investments. The sole focus of our endowment is to generate returns which fund scholarships and other endowed programs critical to the University.”

University President Rick Hurley and the school’s Student Senate have voiced support for divestment. Divest UMW claimed its divestment petition has been signed by 1,500 people including 1,000 students, 250 alumni, and two thirds of the UMW faculty. Jason Davidson, a professor of political science and international affairs, also wrote an editorial in support of the group.

One student even reported that a teacher told a protester in an email, “Don’t come to class! Sit in, divest!”

Zakaria Kronemer, co-founder of Divest UMW, told WVTF radio that his group was “prepared to stay in this space until [their] demands are met.”

On April 6, over a week into the sit-in, the Student Government Association’s Executive Cabinet rejected a motion to issue a statement on behalf of the SGA in support of Divest UMW.

The Blue and Gray Press, UMW’s student newspaper, reported some cabinet members “were not comfortable specifically mentioning Divest UMW and believed the endorsement would exclude students who have different opinions about the issue.”

In an interview with Campus Reform, Nicole Tardif, chair of the UMW College Republicans, said she believes Divest UMW is hypocritical, citing their everyday activities as proof.

“Every day members of Divest charge their cell phones, use lights, or take hot showers provided by Dominion Power,” she commented.

Tardif continued, “If they truly believe in cutting off environmentally unfriendly industries, they should take a look into the small things they do every day using fossil fuels and ‘dirty’ energy.”

Representatives from Divest UMW did not return Campus Reform’s requests to comment.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @emilyjashinksy

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