Oxford University Students Occupy College in Climate Protest

A collaboration of university students from various climate action groups – including Oxford Direct Action for Divestment, Oxford Climate Justice Campaign, Fossil Free Oxfordshire, and Extinction Rebellion Oxford University – have set up a camp on the grass in St. John’s college, demanding that the college withdraw its fossil fuel investments.

 St. John’s has come under heavy scrutiny for ignoring student pressure, with a source on the ethical investment working group describing it as “not taking any real action”.

29th January 2020 – TODAY, students at the University of Oxford have occupied St. John’s College in a targeted action demanding that the College divests its £8.1 million of disclosed investments in fossil fuel companies, as well as all undisclosed fossil fuel investments from its £551 million endowment. Dozens of students from across the University have set up camp in the front quad of St. John’s equipped with banners and placards, to demand that it takes seriously its responsibility as a globally-respected education institution and starts respecting people and planet.

Anna Olerinyova, a PhD student in Chemistry at St. John’s who is participating in the occupation, said: “The message from scientists is clear: to stop run-away climate change, we must leave fossil fuels in the ground.  And our message to St. John’s is equally clear: stop funding the destruction of our livelihoods, lands and futures, and drop these dirty investments now.”

St John’s College is known to have direct investments of £3.5 million in BP and £4.6 million in Shell. Additionally, it is highly likely the college holds investments in mutual funds with fossil fuel exposure, but has repeatedly denied freedom of information requests from students to detail whether this is the case. Learning of this, a group of concerned St. John’s students have been attempting to engage the College leadership in a discussion about a reassessment of their investment policy and practices, with little success. Whilst an ethical investment review committee has been formed, senior members of the committee described its intended function as a purely intellectual exercise, demonstrating total disdain for those impacted by their investment practices. Aside from requesting letters of reassurance from Shell and BP that their business practices are environmentally friendly, no action has been taken by the college leadership, leaving it to students to lead the way.

The occupation of St. John’s College is planned to last several days, or until a serious concession is made by the college which reflects the urgency and seriousness of the situation. It has been organised by St. John’s students, with the help of various climate action groups in Oxford including Oxford Climate Justice Campaign, Fossil Free Oxfordshire and Extinction Rebellion Oxford. A camp has been set up on the grass, with banners hanging between tents painted with slogans like ‘Stop Funding Fossil Fuels’, and signs emblazoned with phrases such as “we can’t eat money or drink oil”, a quote from the Wiikwemkoong First Nation activist Autumn Peltier, have been set up around the camp. In addition, there is a 4m model of the RSS Sir David Attenborough atop a banner saying ‘Change Course on Climate’, pointing away from paintings of oil and destruction and towards a scene of green energy and environmental responsibility. Students hope the action will draw attention to the destruction currently being caused by the climate crisis, and link between the current profiting from fossil fuels and the colleges’ past histories of colonial exploitation.

“The University of Oxford and its constituent colleges are looked to by the media and the world as a source of academic authority and excellence. St John’s College is the wealthiest college of all and a leader in its research fields, so has a responsibility to set an example for other Oxford colleges, pension and sovereign wealth funds. But instead, it lags far behind the field. Over half of universities in the UK have now committed to fossil fuel divestment, and as recently as Monday 27th Balliol College announced its plans to divest, yet the University of Oxford and most of its colleges still hold investments in fossil fuels.  It’s unjustifiable that our wealthiest education institutions continue to profit from the exploitation of the most marginalised – those who are being affected most by the climate crisis.” — Fergus Green, organiser Direct Action for Divestment

“This action will bring some much-needed urgency to the divestment issue at Oxford. Momentum is picking up, and this should be a warning to the university and colleges that we’re serious, committed and willing to do what it takes to make change happen. It’s also not just students – a group of academics will soon be bringing a resolution to congregation demanding that the central university commits to divesting its endowment. Students, academics and local residents are united against the exploitative investments of the university, and are working together to fight for climate justice. “ – Pascale Gourdeau, Co-Chair Oxford Climate Justice Campaign

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