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Student Government Urges Loyola to Halt Fossil Fuel Investments

Sean Hemmersmeier | The PhoenixStudents rallied in favor of the SGLC resolution on Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus Feb. 13. The resolution passed Feb. 25.

In a 20 to 0 vote Tuesday, the Student Government of Loyola Chicago (SGLC) passed a resolution calling for Loyola to divest — or stop investing — in fossil fuels within two years, student officials said. 

Isabella Gross, an SGLC senator and the chief sponsor for the resolution, said she is thrilled the resolution passed. 

“I’m incredibly proud of the senate and its members … to see that [divestment] is something they support,” said Gross, a 20-year-old sophomore majoring in environmental studies. “I’m hopeful [Loyola] follows the legislation.”

Fossil fuels are a non-renewable energy resource made from the remains of prehistoric plants and animals, according to the United States Department of Energy website. Their use has been identified as a major source of climate change, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration website

Sean Hemmersmeier | The Phoenix

Divestment is a way for institutions to apply social and economic pressure to companies contributing to the climate crisis, according to  350.org — an organization focused on ending fossil fuel use and replacing it with renewable energy.

Loyola’s endowment — donated money meant to be invested and used to fund parts of the university — totals to about $690 million, according to the university’s 2019 annual report. In 2016, around 2 percent of Loyola’s endowment was invested in the fossil fuel industry, The Phoenix reported

While many groups on campus have called for Loyola to divest since the early 2010s, the movement wasn’t very organized until recently, Chief Sustainability Officer for SGLC Isabelle Abbott said. A 2014 letter signed by more than 200 faculty members supported Loyola’s  divestment, The Phoenix reported.  

The University Senate — a body made up of faculty, staff, students and administrators who advise the university as part of Loyola’s shared governance — passed a resolution to divest from fossil fuels in  2015, The Phoenix also reported.

This time, SGLC partnered with Loyola’s Student Environmental Alliance (SEA) to create the legislation calling for divestment from fossil fuels and investment in sustainable resources, said Abbott, a 21-year-old senior studying environmental policy and international studies. 

SGLC President Kathleen Meis, 22, cited widespread student-body support as another reason for bringing the legislation. SGLC’s most recent survey of the student body showed 1,380 out of 1,725 students — or 80 percent — supported a sustainable investment portfolio for the university, according to Meis, a senior who studies environmental policy. 

She said she hopes the resolution “sparks the conversation” and wants Loyola administration to take the issue seriously.

Loyola first-year Gavin Schreier — who uses they/them pronouns — said they think Loyola must divest from fossil fuels and cited the school’s commitment to sustainability. 

“I think they should because it’s hypocritical of them not to,”  the 19-year-old studying political science said. They said if Loyola was really committed to sustainability, it would agree to divestment. 

Loyola has championed sustainability and ranked in the top 10 greenest colleges in the country in 2016, according to the university website. Loyola also won the 2019 National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Sustainability Award for incorporating sustainable practices in athletic facilities, the website said.  

“[Loyola is] committed to an inclusive process considering social, economic and environmental impacts and exemplified in a transformative education for our students,” according to Loyola’s Sustainability Mission

Rylee Tan | The Phoenix Madelynne Drescher, Speaker of the Senate, spoke during the SGLC vote on the divestment resolution.

Loyola’s Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Wayne Magdziarz didn’t respond to requests for comment and wouldn’t confirm how much of Loyola’s endowment is currently invested in fossil fuels, or what companies in which it has invested. 

Loyola’s Chief Investment Officer Katharine Wyatt also didn’t respond to request for comment by the time of publication. 

Despite a global push toward cleaner energy sources, the fossil fuel industry still receives around $650 billion in subsidies — financial support — from the United States government, according to a study published last year by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), an organization that researches economic policy and lends money to developing countries. 

Globally, the fossil fuel industry has also received around $1.9 trillion in investments from banks alone, according to a study published by the Rainforest Action Network, a United States based environmental organization. 

Loyola’s Investment Policy and Guidelines — a document explaining how the university chooses investments — said the university will “prudently exercise ethical and social stewardship in its investment policy and practices.” 

Loyola isn’t the only college facing pressure to divest. Since the movement was started by 350.org, colleges and universities around the country have divested, including Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University and fellow Jesuit college Seattle University

Last week, another Jesuit university, Georgetown University,, voted to divest from fossil fuels. SEA President Shriya Patel, a sophomore studying environmental science and political science, said it’s time for Loyola to do the same. 

“With the recent news, the pressure is on to divest,” Patel said. “I definitely think we’re close but there’s a lot of work to be done.”

World Divestment Day, Feb. 13, is a holiday created by 350.org to spread awareness of fossil fuel investment, according to their website. Loyola’s SEA put on a rally outside the Institute of Environmental Sustainability Feb. 13 to bring awareness to fossil fuel divestment. 

Loyola Vice President for Student Development Jane Neufeld said in a statement emailed to The Phoenix by Anna Rozenich, Loyola’s director of communications, that the university respects the student’s right to advocate for change.

“During the process of speaking out, we do expect students to adhere to the Community Standards and respect all members of the University community,” the statement said. 

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